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Theekshana returns as Sri Lanka look to test Australia with spin

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DUBAI: Spinner Maheesh Theekshana has recovered from injury in time for Thursday’s ICC Twenty20 World Cup clash against Australia, Sri Lanka head coach Mickey Arthur said, hopeful that the youngster can exploit the opposition’s weakness against the turning ball.

Theekshana, 21, who missed the win against Bangladesh due to a side strain, made his international debut only last month but has quickly established himself as a much-feared mystery bowler, drawing comparisons with former Lankan spinner Ajantha Mendis.

“Maheesh will be playing tomorrow, if everything goes well. We’ve rested him from training yesterday. He’s improved tremendously,” Arthur told reporters.

Spin proved to be Australia’s undoing in the 4-1 series defeat by Bangladesh in August, with the tourists struggling on pitches not too dissimilar from the ones seen in the United Arab Emirates so far.

“He [Theekshana] is a quality bowler. I think we’ve also got to — he’s a mystery bowler… tactically we do study our opposition. We obviously have studied Australia,” said Arthur. “We had a series not so long ago when I was with Pakistan here against them where we did use spin quite successfully. So hopefully that works. If you haven’t seen Maheesh, he certainly poses some questions.”

“He has a couple of different balls that do make you quite hesitant if you can’t pick them.”

Australia scraped past South Africa in their opener at the weekend, with a win for either side on Thursday likely to be crucial in the race for the semi-finals.

Arthur added that his team did not have much to lose after coming out unscathed in the qualifiers and that they were confident of beating anyone on their day.

“The players have been outstanding. And we just are improving. For us, it’s about our journey. It’s not a sprint… the qualifiers were tough. There was a lot of pressure on us there. Now the pressure is reversed,” he said.

The coach was full of praise for Charith Asalanka, whose superb knock led the way against Bangladesh.

“To see Charith’s development has been incredible. I remember him arriving in our bubble just before we went to England… and to see Charith’s journey from England to where he is now is a credit to himself,” Arthur added.

Meanwhile Australia wicket-keeper Matthew Wade has backed skipper Aaron Finch and David Warner to hit top gear and help drive the team to a maiden Twenty20 World Cup title.

Finch has almost 2,500 runs in T20 Internationals with a personal high of 172, the second best individual score ever made. However, he was out for a duck in Australia’s opening five-wicket win over South Africa at the weekend and has passed 50 just once in his last seven T20 innings.

Warner, meanwhile, made 14 against the Proteas after coming into the tournament having been dropped by his IPL side, Sunrisers Hyderabad.

“They’re terrific players. They’re just short of runs,” said Wade. “Guys that are world-class players for as long as they have been in this format are never out of form. They’re just short of runs at the moment.”

Wade played a key role in the win against South Africa as he and Marcus Stoinis stood unbeaten in a tense finish.

Chasing a modest 119 for victory, Australia were in trouble at 81-5 before Stoinis, who made 24, and left-handed Wade (15) put on an unbeaten stand of 40 to steer the team to victory.

“It’s been spoken a lot about going into this tour about Davey [Warner] especially. We know he’ll come good,” said Wade. “I’ve played long enough with him now that he’s been under pressure plenty of times in his career, comes out, has a big score.”

Warner, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Wednesday, said he feels like he is just a boundary away from a good innings.

“I actually think people talking about my form is quite funny,” Warner said. “Against South Africa, I got my benchmark back with where I should be with my feet and everything. I feel like I’m in a good space, I’m hitting the ball well in the nets and couldn’t be any more ready to go.

“I felt like I was one boundary away from having a good innings.”

Warner has an imposing recent record against Sri Lanka with undefeated scores of 100, 60 and 57 when he last faced them on home soil in 2019.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2021

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