One half-century in the last 17 One-Day International (ODI) innings and one half-century in 12 Twenty20 International (T20I) innings, of which the man in discussion — Niroshan Dickwella — opened in ten of them. These aren't the kind of numbers that lead to a selection debate. For an opener, these are dismal figures and anyone with less than 2500 runs across the three formats in his career shouldn't find himself in the squad based on these numbers.
But here we are talking of Sri Lanka, a team that succumbed to three whitewashes in 2017 and boosted Rohit Sharma's 'Hitman' credentials. Devoid of experience and stars, the islanders are still struggling to cope with the retirement of few of their stalwart cricketers.
Should that justify the inclusion of a person with these numbers? Absolutely not. But Dickwella has been the lone bright spot in Sri Lanka's horrifying, nightmarish year in cricket. He hasn't been in good form of late but has, on multiple occasions, shown the guts and grit to front up to the best sides.
Being in opposition, it's tough to elicit praise from Virat Kohli, unless one is as good as AB de Villiers. Yet, Dickwella earned some encouraging words from the Indian skipper after a heated exchange with Mohammed Shami and Virat Kohli in the Kolkata Test in November last year, where he employed time-consuming tactics to frustrate the Indians.
“"I like to see that character. I liked that competitiveness on the field. He is someone who takes lot of pride in his cricket. I am impressed with what I have seen so far of him from the last series as well. He has got great ability to do something very special for Sri Lankan cricket,” Kohli had said then.
To state Sri Lankan cricket is in dire straits is putting it lightly. They have lost quite a few senior players. Angelo Mathews is nursing injuries every now and then, and Asela Gunaratne, supposedly their saviour in limited-overs' cricket, is out with injury as well. To top it all, the selectors have been quite impatient with a young side and have discarded and picked players like in a game of Russian Roulette.
This led to the ouster of Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva, two of the most talented batsmen in the new-look Sri Lankan side, at different times in the past few months. The duo returned with roaring success, but the axe falls on Dickwella this time.
The aggressive left-handed batsman had played a huge role in Sri Lanka's dismal year, fronting up to an enraged Kagiso Rabada in South Africa and a rampant Pakistan seam attack in the Champions Trophy. The flashy wicketkeeper made a resounding 73 off 86 balls then and was the only Lankan to show some fight. Such performances were thought to earn him a longer rope in the limited-overs side.
He had made quite an impact against India last year, particularly in Tests, where he employed the sweep shot with great success to put spinners off their lengths.
He is quite strong behind square on either side of the wicket and could have been the guy to tackle Yuzvendra Chahal in the all-important middle-overs. Chahal has shown a tendency to go wayward when attacked and with him turning the ball into the left-hander, Dickwella might well have saved Sri Lanka a few headaches.
The manner in which South Africa's Heinrich Klaasen put Chahal and Kuldeep off with his pyrotechnics should ideally have warded off any doubts the Sri Lankan selectors had of Dickwella whose inventive 'Dickscoop’ (renamed from 'Dilscoop' after his memorable ramp off Kagiso Rabada in a limited-overs game) would have been a proactive tactic against the dominant wrist-spin duo.
"When I was schooling, first I tried that shot in the nets and got hit on the head and nothing happened. And then my fear for that shot disappeared. Now I can play all three scoops (to the fine leg, third man and over the head) intentionally," Dickwella had said of his innovative scoop.
But Sri Lanka's unimpressive selection policy means that the wicket-keeper batsman will have to watch the series from the comfort of his sofa while Kusal Perera, at best a hit-and-miss batsman, takes his place behind and in front of stumps.
The other selections are along expected lines with Nuwan Pradeep and Dushmantha Chameera returning to add firepower to the pace attack in place of the injured pair of Shehan Madushanka and Asela Gunaratne. Lasith Malinga, who recently spoke about ending his international career, still finds himself unwanted. Jeffrey Vandersay makes way for all-rounder Jeevan Mendis, another leg-spinner, while Dhananjaya de Silva returns after his impressive exploits in other formats.
There is an overdose of opening batsmen in the team with Kusal Mendis impressing at the top of the order in Bangladesh. Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Perera are the other contenders. This might also have played a role in Dickwella's omission but the keeper-batsman could have been even more useful in the middle-order against the spinners.
Suranga Lakmal takes over vice-captaincy duties after returning to the squad and will also lead a strong pace bowling pack. With Angelo Mathews missing out due to injury, Thisara Perera and Dasun Shanaka will be the seam-bowling all-rounders in the squad.
Overall, aside from Dickwella's glaring omission, Sri Lanka's selectors have done a decent job in picking the squad from the available resources, but it remains to be seen if they have the X-factor required to topple over India, whose second-string team looks as intimidating as the main team. The competitiveness and enthusiasm Dickwella brings to the field would be sorely missed by Sri Lanka in the Nidahas Trophy.