Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s comeback seems to be just around the corner

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It is not a secret that Sri Lanka’s form in the shortest format of the game has been horrendous the past 3 years. Since 2018 they have lost 17 from 26 T20Is. The only silver lining from this period was the Sri Lanka tour of Pakistan where the rookie ‘2nd string’ (as they say) Sri Lanka team whitewashed No. 01 ranked Pakistan at Gaddafi stadium. In that series, a new star emerged for Sri Lanka in the name of Bhanuka Rajapaksa. 

28-year-old Rajapaksa batting at no. 03, showcased his batting power the first opportunity he was presented at the international level, becoming the highest runs scorer of the tournament with an average of 37.33 at a strike rate of 143.58.

Video – Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s explosive knock against Kandy

Since then he only played 4 more T20Is and dropped from the T20I squad for West Indies series. In a recent interview done by ThePapare.com, Sri Lanka Current coach revealed the reason why Rajapaksa was axed from the national squad.

Video – Sri Lanka Head Coach Mickey Arthur – Cricket Chat 05

“It is a fair question and I’m sure that Bhanuka won’t mind me answering it is as honest as I could. The mantra for professional cricketers has been, you need to at the best physical shape that you can be at any given time. That’s a non-negotiable. You must control your physical conditioning. That’s the only thing you can control”

“I didn’t think Bhanuka Rajapaksa was at the level required to play international cricket and I had the conversation with him. I didn’t think his fielding was good enough at international level either” – Arthur explained.

Former Royalist was destined for much greater heights in his school days, as he was one of the handful of players to be picked as the school-boy cricketer of the year. After his exceptional performances in Sri Lanka U19 level, School level, and a certain knock of 154* vs Australia at Darwin, he was hyped as the next big thing for Sri Lanka Cricket but he had to wait for almost another 10 years to wear the senior international colours.

His international debut was postponed due to fitness issues but the talent this man possessed remained intact. He is well-known for his six-hitting abilities and as an accelerator in domestic set-up and proved his worth again and again at that level, the last instance being his 129-ball double century which is ranked as the fastest double century by a Sri Lankan in First-Class cricket. It was also the 6th fastest in the world.

Bhanuka Rajapaksa slams career-best 268

It is unfortunate that that caliber of talent wastes because of fitness issues but according to Sri Lanka Head Coach, Rajapaksa is on his way to a comeback.

“Since that conversation, Bhanuka has been outstanding. He’s been brilliant. He’s worked the house down. He’s changed his diets and his work ethic has gone through the roof. I’m very proud of how he responded to our conversation. If he continues along the line and he puts the performances in place, he will become a serious contender again for that T20 side.” – Arthur added.

Mickey Arthur has been instrumental in transforming the No. 09 T20I team, Pakistan to the top of the World during his tenure as Pakistan head coach and the fitness levels of that team (which is usually below par compared to the highest level) was very much evident in the fielding as well. Arthur expects the same from the Sri Lanka team as well.

Read: Sri Lanka Cricket’s ‘bio-secure’ training plans pushed to June

“That was one of my first conversations with our players’ group that they had to maintain a level of fitness. Otherwise, they were going to deselect themselves. So, we had to be firm and fair in terms of the standards that I was prepared to accept as an international coach” 

When it comes to a professional sportsman, the fitness aspect is non-negotiable. But unfortunately, it seemed that Sri Lanka national team had fallen behind the international standard in the last few years and it indicated in Sri Lanka’s results. It is encouraging to see Mickey Arthur’s priorities when it comes to selection because it will undoubtedly hold Sri Lanka Cricket in good stead in the future.

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