These are early days but have Sri Lanka found a replacement for their former captain Rangana Herath? Three seasons ago due to a series of knee and back injuries, it was evident that Herath was nearing his end. Once he passed the age of 40, he was struggling to play back-to-back Tests. Sri Lanka had been preparing for post Herath era but with little success.
Both Tharindu Kaushal and Akila Dananjaya, young and skillful had their work cut out after ICC recommended testing their action having called it illegal. Both have remodeled their actions but have been barely effective.
Dilruwan Perera had a prolific 2018 finishing with 50 wickets, second highest by any bowler that year behind Kagiso Rabada. But he has struggled away from home and was neither effective nor economical in the recent tour of Australia forcing the selectors to recall the uncapped Lasith Embuldeniya for the tour of South Africa.Embuldeniya had been in the system having toured with Sri Lanka ‘A’ and Emerging Teams. He was expected to perhaps feature in the home series against New Zealand in July this year. But to be called up for an away series in South Africa was unexpected and to play ahead of Lakshan Sandakan, who was in the original squad was not on the cards. But his five-wicket haul on debut justified the move.
He provided the captain both the wicket-taking and containing options. Spare a thought for Dimuth Karunaratne’s predecessor Dinesh Chandimal, who was let down badly by his spinner in New Zealand and Australia.
Embuldeniya is a product of the posh Royal College in Colombo, the school that produced former Sri Lanka captain Ranjan Madugalle. He had two impressive seasons picking up 80 and 120 wickets before leaving school and like Madugalle joined Nondescripts Cricket Club to play First-Class cricket.
A clever student as well at school, Embuldeniya wanted to go overseas and pursue higher studies in engineering. Then his school coach Avishka Gunawardene, currently the ‘A’ team coach urged him to take a decision after two years of First-Class cricket. The wait and the sacrifice has been fully worth.
Some may get the feeling that Embuldeniya has had a roller-coaster ride so far but this notion has been far from reality. Despite impressive returns at school level, he was overlooked for the ICC U-19 World Cup. Not to forget that the coaching staff wanted him. Due to his unusual knee joints, the selectors felt that he was prone for injuries and wasn’t a long-term investment. Not that he had any issues with injuries as such but it was the gut feeling of the selectors. But with an ability to bowl long spells and more than anything his sheer grit, Embuldeniya has earned the admiration of superiors and colleagues and it is no surprise that he has gone onto make his Test debut at the age of 22.
The grit was seen first with the bat. In Sri Lanka’s first innings score of 191 all-out, Embuldeniya’s 24 was the third highest contribution. More importantly he faced 63 deliveries, the same number of balls faced by Kusal Perera, the lone half-centurion of the innings. South Africa’s four pronged pace attack peppered him with bouncers but he didn’t give it away and was last man dismissed.
Sri Lanka wished that they had someone like Embuldeniya in Australia where batsmen chickened out after being bombarded with short pitched bowling.
Their tail has been found wanting as well in recent times having come up with insignificant contributions. The arrival of Embuldeniya has helped to add muscle to lower order. He will enjoy conditions in Port Elizabeth even more as St. George’s Park is the most spin friendly track in the whole of South Africa.
Popular among the coaching staff for his work ethic and demeanour, Embuldeniya is the kind of player any captain would love to have in the side.
The danger is that once a young player has done well, Sri Lanka’s selectors tend to push them for other versions of the game as well eventually killing a player’s flair early on in his career.
Embuldeniya is ideally suited for Test cricket with a classical left-arm spinner attributes, but the team’s recent struggles in white-ball cricket could force the selectors to push the panic button.
Not that they have not got options. The ambidextrous Kamindu Mendis, who bowls effective finger spin from both arms looks better suited for limited-overs cricket. He should be retained for the ODI leg of the tour of South Africa while Embuldeniya should return home to play domestic cricket.
There’s been few positives in Sri Lankan cricket over the last 24 months. The arrival of Embuldeniya has been a need of the hour after many setbacks.