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Hampshire stint on hold as Dimuth Karunaratne enters frame for Sri Lanka World Cup captaincy

  • 3/18/2019 5:07:25 PM

Dimuth Karunaratne's forthcoming stint with the Hampshire county side may be cancelled, with Sri Lanka's selectors now strongly considering handing the ODI reins to Karunaratne for the World Cup.

Hampshire had signed Karunaratne as their overseas player in February, but Karunaratne has now been asked to remain in Sri Lanka through April, in order to play the provincial one-day tournament, during which the selectors will assess his suitability for the Sri Lanka one-day side.

Karunaratne has not played an ODI since the last World Cup, and has been pigeon-holed as a Test batsman, partly owing to poor returns in the one-day format - his average is 15.83 after 17 matches.

But as Lasith Malinga's one-day captaincy is yet to yield a victory for Sri Lanka in nine matches, the selectors are considering a left-field move.

"The selectors haven't confirmed anything, but they've told me to keep in mind there's a possibility I could become one-day captain," Karunaratne told ESPNcricinfo. "They've asked me to stay back for the provincial tournament. If I get picked for the World Cup squad, there will be camps and training after that as well, so I might not be able to go to Hampshire in those months."

Although Karunaratne does not generally score as quickly as your standard ODI batsman, there is now a hope he will be able to hold Sri Lanka's innings together. In recent years, Sri Lanka has frequently lost early wickets. They were unable to last the full fifty overs in any of the four full ODIs they just played in South Africa.

The selectors have also been impressed with Karunaratne's ability to band the team together in tough situations. Sri Lanka's recent historic upset against South Africa in Tests was partly credited to the manner in which Karunaratne was able to coax the best from a group of inexperienced players. Several of the stars of that series have since paid tribute to Karunaratne's leadership.

In an interview with Sunday Times, chief selector Ashantha de Mel said his committee wants "to see what Dimuth did for the Test team, with the ODI team". Angelo Mathews, de Mel said, was also in the frame for the captaincy, because Mathews was "someone who has been accepted by everyone in the team".

"But we are also looking at Dimuth," he said.

Through all this, it is still not clear if Malinga will lose his job - the selectors have not ruled out his captaincy for the World Cup either. Essentially, at present, there are three possible choices for captaincy, each with its drawbacks. Karunaratne is not thought of as a one-day player; Mathews is often injured, and although Malinga is both an automatic choice in the one-day XI, and has been fit over the past few months, the selectors do not believe he has the full support of the dressing room.

In any case, Karunaratne has not done his chances any harm by hitting 109 off 115 balls for Sinhalese Sports Club in the semi-final of the Premier Limited Over tournament on Sunday.

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