Dimuth Karunaratne has been named captain of Sri Lanka’s World Cup side, meaning Lasith Malinga has been ousted as leader.
Although Karunaratne has not played an ODI since the 2015 World Cup, his leadership during the upset Test series win in South Africa had tipped him as a left-field captaincy choice for the World Cup.
Sri Lanka’s subsequent 5-0 defeat in the ODIs to South Africa sealed the fate of Malinga’s captaincy, before Karunaratne’s good performances with the bat in the recent Super Four domestic tournament provided some indication that he was a viable choice as a one-day opener. Although fears about Karunaratne’s batting centred around whether he could score runs quickly enough, he mustered a strike-rate of over 90, as he made 165 runs at an average of 55 through the course of that tournament.
The news will be a substantial blow to Malinga, whose commitment to his position as captain saw him play a domestic match in Kandy, only 14 hours after finishing an IPL match in Mumbai, earlier this month. Although Malinga had led Sri Lanka to a World T20 trophy in 2014, his one-day captaincy has produced abysmal results – the team losing each of the nine ODIs they have played under his leadership.
Malinga was also understood to have had a poor relationship with several key players. Earlier this year, Thisara Perera asked Sri Lanka Cricket to intervene after he and Malinga’s wife had become embroiled in a Facebook squabble.
The third major option for the captaincy may in fact have been the selectors’ first choice: Angelo Mathews, who has been Sri Lanka’s ODI captain in two separate stints before. But he is understood to have ruled himself out. His most recent stint at the helm was cut short when he was ousted following Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup exit it September. Mathews’ relationship with coach Chandika Hathurusingha had become incredibly strained following the player’s axing last year.
Sri Lanka are yet to name their World Cup squad, but the selectors’ final meeting is expected to take place on Thursday, with the squad likely to be announced over the following 24 hours.
Although Karunaratne has not been part of a Sri Lanka ODI squad for years, he is now clearly assured a place. Both Malinga and Mathews are also almost certain to be named.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf
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