Akila Dananjaya is likely to find a place in the Sri Lanka starting XI. © Getty Images
In the Sri Lankan camp, ahead of the Super Eights, all talk has been about the exact combination the team would use for their first match, against New Zealand at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Thursday. While it has not become a matter for concern yet, all eyes are on Ajantha Mendis, who had his first full training session since the opening match against Zimbabwe last Wednesday.
In the opening game, Mendis, who was returning to international cricket after a gap of more than nine months because of a lower-back injury, returned figures of 4-2-8-6, but complained of stiffness in the side. Graham Ford, Sri Lanka’s coach, admitted that the team would miss Mendis if he pulled up short of full fitness. “With the way he bowled, and the X Factor he brings, it would be a big blow,” said Ford. “In T20 cricket you want guys who can win matches on their own, and he’s one of those guys. We have a number of quality spinners, fortunately, so if Ajantha can’t play we have very capable back up.”
The back-up that Ford referred to was the experienced Rangana Herath, who bowls clever left-arm spin, and the untested yet undeniably gifted Akila Dananjaya. Add to this the part-time spin options of Jeevan Mendis and Tillakaratne Dilshan, and you have a situation where Sri Lanka have enough options irrespective of what combination they choose.
“Before every game we’ve considered different combinations,” said Ford. “In the last game (seven overs a side against South Africa), the weather changed our plans. We’re still considering options but we haven’t seen the playing surface. Once we assess that, it will be that much easier to start thinking about combinations.”
Ford revealed that Dananjaya, a week short of his 19th birthday and with no first-class experience, was a sure starter for the South Africa match. “He’s certainly very close to playing,” said Ford. “He was probably going to play against South Africa. Then the game got reduced, and there was the chance he would’ve been bowling with a wet ball so that went against him. He was going to get a game there, he’s close to playing. He’s certainly not here just to carry the drinks.”
Dananjaya, whose effect is similar to Mendis – a clever mix of offspin, legspin, doosras, googlies and carrom balls, when we last checked – is probably closer to Sunil Narine in the way he releases the ball. Ford steered clear of labelling him an offspiner, though. “I guess everyone labels him as a mystery spinner,” he said. “He’s got a lot of varations with good control. It’s going to take any batsman who hasn’t seen him a bit of time to work out what he does. In this format of the game, that’s quite an advantage.”
As Ford put it, though, Sri Lanka will assess the pitch at Pallekele, and use that as a “starting point” to settle on a playing XI, while “keeping one good eye on the opposition”.