Theekshana picked up 4 for 37, the best-ever returns for a Sri Lanka debutant
It was a very late-aughts move. In the age of Ajantha Mendis and Muthiah Muralidaran, Sri Lanka were flagbearers for mystery spin, batters the world over frequently failing to read Murali’s doosra, or Mendis’ carrom balls and googlies.
“I actually brought Maheesh Theekshana into the team to play T20s,” Shanaka said. “But I knew that on a track like this where it turns a lot, it’s going to be hard for South Africa to read someone like Theekshana out of the hand. I took that risk as a captain and the selectors and coaches supported me. And that became a big advantage for us.”
Theekshana, though, is not just about the mystery, Shanaka insisted. He had been reasonably effective in Sri Lanka’s recent T20 tournament, taking four wickets at an economy rate of 6.42. Although he’s played only 11 List A games, those stats are also impressive – he’s got 19 wickets at an average of 16.15.
“He’s played a little bit at the higher levels – not internationals – but he’s played league tournaments like the T10 and the LPL,” Shanaka said. “It’s not easy to read him because he’s now got the googly, and the carrom ball, and his offspin as well. Because he’s got several variations, I don’t think it’ll be easy for any team to read him. But it’s because he has some skill that we used him. It’s not just how difficult to read him, we also know that he’s a skilful bowler.”
This was Sri Lanka’s first ODI series victory in five attempts this year (they had lost against West Indies, Bangladesh, England, and India), and although he was quick to highlight his side’s potential, Shanaka believed there were major work-ons.
“Batting is where we have a weakness still,” he said. “We don’t play enough sweeps or reverse sweeps against spin, and we’ve got to do that in future. We might win series, but we have to focus on how we’re going to score 300 or chase 300 going forward. We also need to figure out our death bowling a little more. Those are the big areas for improvement.
“But in this team, the only players who had played more than 50 matches were Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva, so I think that as a team we should be able to hit our targets in the future. When you get experience, your game develops. I have a lot of belief that with that experience this group of players will perform well in the years to come.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf