Sri Lanka has unleashed some special bowling talents ahead of big events over the years.
In the case of Lasith Malinga, he was thrown into the deep end during a so-called Top End tour of Australia in 2004. In the case of Ajantha Mendis, he was introduced just before the Asia Cup and he starred with six wickets against India in the final as Sri Lanka clinched the trophy in 2008.
The same blueprint is to be followed with 20-year-old Matheesha Pathirana, who will make his ODI debut in the three-match series against Afghanistan that gets underway on Friday.
Although Pathirana has played just one Twenty20 International, he is already a star after performing a key role for Chennai in the Super Kings’ run to a record fifth Indian Premier League title.
Pathirana bowls with a unique round-arm action and Sri Lankans hope that he’ll be quite a handful for batters during the World Cup qualifiers later this month in Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka, which won the 1996 World Cup title and has twice been runner-up, needs to go through qualifying because of its slide down the International Cricket Council rankings in the one-day format.
Afghanistan has no such issues after qualifying automatically for the showpiece event later this year in India.
Bowling is Afghanistan’s strength, with three Afghan players featuring in the list of top 10 bowlers in official ICC rankings. Leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who will miss at least one game because of a lower-back injury, and off-spinners Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Mohammad Nabi will find the conditions in Hambantota to their liking.
They also have left-arm wrist spinner Noor Ahmed, who was quite a handful for Gujarat Titans during the IPL.
Although bowling is the team’s strong point, Afghanistan also some some solid batting.
Ibrahim Zadran showcased that he is a star in the making during the ICC Under-19 World Cup and since graduating to the senior side, he has smashed three centuries in just eight one-dayers. That includes a career-best 162, the highest score by an Afghan in ODIs.
Friday’s series-opener will be the first international to be staged at Hambantota in more than three years.
The series was hastily arranged after Sri Lanka failed to automatically qualify for the World Cup, and will provide an opportunity for the selectors to take a final look at some of the players before they submit the squad to the ICC before the June 10 deadline.
Sri Lanka has recalled Test captain Dimuth Karunaratne to the squad. Karunaratne was fired as ODI captain and dropped from the squad in 2021. However, with the batting unit not able to utilize the full quota of 50 overs often enough, the need for Karunaratne’s stable presence has been felt.
The host have also recalled fast bowler Dushmantha Chameera, who is returning after seven months following ankle surgery.
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