Madushka Balasuriya in ESPNcricinfo, 6 October 2023: “Injured Theekshana to miss SL’s opener against South Africa”
Head coach Chris Silverwood backs Sri Lanka’s rookie bowlers in the absence of seniors. Sri Lanka will be without Maheesh Theekshana for their World Cup opener against South Africa, head coach Chris Silverwood has confirmed on the eve of the game, with the spinner not yet fully recovered from the hamstring tear he suffered in the Asia Cup. Sri Lanka, however, will have the services of both Kusal Perera and Dasun Shanaka.
Chris Silverwood, the coach
“Theekshana is still recovering from a hamstring injury, so he won’t be available for this game,” Silverwood said. “But we expect him to be available very soon. The rest of them are fine.”
KANDY, SRI LANKA – AUGUST 31: Maheesh Theekshana of Sri Lanka (L) and Matheesha Pathirana of Sri Lanka celebrates taking the wicket of Mustafizur Rahman of Banladesh during the Asia Cup Group B match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on August 31, 2023 in Kandy, Sri Lanka. (Photo by Surjeet Yadav/Getty Images)
Theekshana’s absence, along with that of Wanindu Hasaranga, who was ruled out of the tournament entirely with a hamstring injury, means that the spin-bowling burden will be shouldered by allrounders Dhananjaya de Silva and Dunith Wellalage, as well as legspinner Dushan Hemantha, should he be included in the playing XI.
Of those three, left-arm spinner Wellalage, 20, has most caught the eye, particularly following his nearly match-winning exploits against India in the Asia Cup. Silverwood though was keen to keep a lid on expectations.
“Dunith has shown us what a good young cricketer he is,” he said. “He’s got an old head on young shoulders and I think he’s played his cricket with maturity so far. I think he’s shown his worth with bat and ball and he’s a good young fielder as well.
“We’re not going to put any more pressure on him than that, so for me he goes out and he plays his way. He knows his role in the team and he’s very happy with that. So, for me it’s about not putting pressure on these guys, it’s about taking pressure off them and I want him to go out and enjoy himself and show the rest of the world how good he is and if we can do that and give him that freedom, I think we’ll see the best of him.”
Dhoni’s view doesn’t bother me’ – Silverwood keen to give Pathirana as many chances as possible
Wellalage aside, Sri Lanka’s bowling stocks are full of young talent. Theekshana and Dilshan Madushanka are both 23, while Matheesha Pathirana is 20. Pathirana, with his slingy action reminiscent of Lasith Malinga, had made waves in school cricket before getting his big break in the IPL – even before he had debuted for Sri Lanka – under the guidance of none other than MS Dhoni.
Shortly after that Dhoni had caused a minor stir when he suggested that Pathirana should minimise the amount of 50-over cricket he plays, while completely steering clear of red-ball cricket. Lasith Malinga had been vocal in opposing Dhoni’s view, and Silverwood too seemed keen to offer the youngster as many opportunities as possible.
“Well, I’ve not read that what MS has said and so, to be honest, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, it’s got nothing to do with us,” Silverwood said. “But what I will say is somebody like Pathirana is a very exciting young talent and he’s got a lot to showcase in 50-over cricket as well and I think it would be wrong to deprive him of that opportunity.
“And I think it would be wrong for us not to have him out there and not let Sri Lankan people see what their young talented cricketers can do out on the cricket field.
“I get very excited about the young talent coming through, not just him, we have other youngsters as well. And I think it’s great that we can give them a stage to go show off on. So, for me, they go out there, they spread their wings and fly. And let’s see what they can achieve.”
While injuries are to blame for Sri Lanka’s bowling woes, on the batting front Silverwood acknowledged that many of their troubles have been of their own making.
In both warm-up games, against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, Sri Lanka threw away promising starts. Against Bangladesh they had got to 132 for 3 in 20 overs before being throttled in the middle period to score just 70 runs between overs 20 and 40. Then against Afghanistan they found themselves in an even better position, 240 for 3 in 30 overs courtesy Kusal Mendis’ 87-ball 158, before imploding to be bowled out for 294.
An inability to score quickly at the death is a problem Silverwood knows his side needs to sort out quickly.
“If we look back from the World Cup qualifiers to where we are now, we’ve had some solid starts from the top of the order,” he said. “I think the one thing that we need to capitalise on is those solid starts and obviously go big towards the end. So that’s one area we have been working on and it’s certainly not a secret that that’s something we’ve been working on.
“We can’t hide behind the fact that actually we haven’t kicked on from solid starts and again we missed an opportunity in the warm-up game to do that. As I said, there’s no point hiding behind it. It’s a ‘work-on’ for us and it’s an area that we’re trying to improve constantly.”
Silverwood was nevertheless optimistic about the trajectory of a side that had won an Asia Cup and reached the final of another within the span of a year, and hopes that they will continue to improve their ability to problem solve on the fly.
“Every day when you go into a cricket field, there are challenges and problems put in front of you,” Silverwood said. “I want them to become self-thinking, self-sufficient cricketers who can figure things out on the field for themselves and I think one thing that they have done is embrace that and they’ve showed that every time they get a challenge put in front of them, they try their very best to find a way around it and they’ve done it more often than not.
“You’re not going to do it all the time as we’ve seen but I think the consistency will come in our team once we start learning to do that more and more and more.”
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.