Thisara Perera will lead Sri Lanka’s ODI and T20I teams in India next month*, replacing Upul Tharanga. It is yet another change in leadership for Sri Lanka this year, and as the appointment is only for this series, it is hardly a stabilising long-term appointment.
Nevertheless, it will be the 28-year old allrounder’s first experience of the role in 50-over international cricket; he was in charge of a depleted T20I side that took on Pakistan at the Gaddafi Stadium last month. Thisara is the seventh different man to captain Sri Lanka in 2017, following Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Dinesh Chandimal, Tharanga and Chamara Kapugedera, who have borne the responsibility in one format or the other.
“All teams go through tough patches, it’s upto each of us to get past our mental barriers and perform best for our country,” Thisara said after his appointment on Wednesday. “The goal for each one of us is to bring glory to our country. This must be clearly stated. I can confidently say that although India are currently best in the world in all three formats, if you compare each player of our team with any player in the world [not only India] we are on par with the best of the best.
“My policy as captain is to stop dwelling on the past and failures, and to march forward together with my team, with our eyes firmly planted on the goal of bringing glory to our motherland,” Thisara said. “I believe that if each player can perform to his individual potential, we can easily win this series.”
Thisara’s captaincy, for the time being, is only guaranteed for the India series, as the role of captain will be evaluated on a series-by-series basis going forward until a long-term appointment can be made. With Mathews having relinquished captaincy duties and Chandimal’s position in the limited-overs unit a persistent doubt, the unusual stance taken by SLC to not name a long-term captain with the World Cup less than two years away speaks towards Sri Lanka’s lack of outright leaders in the camp.
SLC, however, was impressed with Thisara’s commanding of a young outfit when several first-choice players expressed reluctance to travel to Lahore, with SLC CEO Ashley De Silva noting that it was Perera’s “aggressive” captaincy that had caught their attention.
“The selectors noticed that he got a lot of support from the players during the T20 series in UAE and Pakistan, and we expect the same support and cooperation to be extended by the players,” de Silva said. “We felt that he carried out his duties very effectively, and he was also a very aggressive captain. So I think when it comes to ODIs and T20s, that is what is required and the selectors have identified his capabilities.”
Chairman of selectors Graeme Labrooy further said: “We are keen to implement our selections policy across the board in all aspects of the game, and Thisara’s appointment is one such move. We believe this is the leadership skillset the team needs right now, and have made this decision specifically with our long-term goals in mind.”
Thisara, while acknowledging his poor run of form in limited-overs cricket, pointed to his success in franchise T20 cricket as well as his recent exploits with the World XI for reasons behind his selection. He also expressed hope that the added responsibility of captaincy would signal an upturn in form and consistency going forward.
“Even though I’ve played less than half of the limited-overs matches the team has played in 2017, I’ve played a lot of cricket abroad in that time. It’s with those performances in tow that I returned to play for Sri Lanka. Yes, my performance level has been low, and I have been in and out of the team. But now as captain, I am a permanent member of the team, so I hope that means I’ll be able to perform better going forward.”
Thisara, who made his debut in December 2009, has played 125 ODIs, with a formidable strike-rate of 108 but an average of only 17. As a bowler, he has taken 133 wickets at 32.62 apiece. His form in recent series, though, has come under some scrutiny. Thisara made only 91 runs – at 18.20 – and picked up a mere four wickets in the ODIs against Pakistan and followed that with 19 runs and three wickets across three T20Is.
Sri Lanka’s limited-overs cricket has undergone plenty of upheaval this year. They lost an ODI series for the first time to Zimbabwe, which prompted Mathews to resign. Tharanga was then appointed captain, but under his watch Sri Lanka were whitewashed 5-0 at home by India and 5-0 away by Pakistan.
The team was beaten 5-0 in South Africa as well, when Tharanga had been a stand-in captain. His batting form, however, was one of the few bright spots during this period. Tharanga carried his bat, scoring 112 not out against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, and also flayed 119 off only 90 balls against the South Africa attack in Cape Town.
Speaking on Tharanga’s role in the team, Labrooy said: “Quite contrary to the baseless speculation on social media sites, Tharanga had not failed us in any way. We want him to keep making big scores and want him to concentrate on his game without burdening him with the captaincy. This is merely a strategic move, and we have discussed it with Tharanga too, who being the 100% team player he is, understands our reasoning and requirement.
“We are keen to implement our selections policy across the board in all aspects of the game, and Thisara’s appointment is one such move. We believe this is the leadership skillset the team needs right now, and have made this decision specifically with our long-term goals in mind.”
*1345GMT The news was updated after Sri Lanka Cricket issued an official release
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