Asitha Fernando is the newest member of Sri Lanka’s increasingly exciting seam department. Shekhar Mathur gives the lowdown on his career up until his Test debut in Johannesburg.
Who is Asitha Fernando?
The 23-year old seamer has been on the fringes of the Sri Lanka set-up for a while with a solitary ODI against Zimbabwe in 2017 being his only opportunity on the international stage prior to his Test debut in 2021.
After consistently plying his trade Sri Lankan first-class cricket, Fernando became the 153rd player to represent Sri Lanka in the men’s Test arena during their second Test against South Africa in Johannesburg.
What’s his story?
Asitha Fernando made his first-class debut for Sri Lanka A in 2016, in their fixture against Pakistan A at Leicester, taking seven wickets across the match against side featuring Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman; he dismissed both batsmen for single figure scores. At this point he was yet to play at the highest level of Sri Lankan first-class cricket, but was granted a chance following an impressive U19 World Cup earlier that year as the spearhead of a Sri Lankan pace attack that took them all the way to the semi-final, where they were beaten by an Indian side that boasted the likes of Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar. In that semi-final defeat, Fernando took 4-43 including the wickets of Pant and Sarfaraz Khan.
Since then, he was been one of the most proficient wicket-takers in all formats of the domestic set up in Sri Lanka. His first-class career is impressive, playing a total of 36 matches and taking 116 wickets at an average of 23.31. Moreover, in List A and T20s, he has taken 69 and 30 wickets with averages of 21.62 and 19.26 respectively. Most notably, he took 6-8 in a domestic T20 game for Chilaw Marians. Based on these statistics, it is no shock that Fernando was granted an ODI call-up in 2017, and almost surprising that he hasn’t played since.
Before his Test debut against South Africa, the Sri Lankan attack was plagued with injuries, giving Fernando his long-awaited opportunity. So far, he has not disappointed. His first victim in Test cricket was Aidan Markram, nicking it to Kusal Mendis at slip. He went on to take another, dismissing left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj for just two, and registering accomplished figures of 2-61 off his 19 overs, which also included five maidens.
There would have been doubt surrounding the success of this young and inexperienced Sri Lankan attack, however, captain Dimuth Karunaratne had plenty of positives to say before Fernando’s debut. “It’s a good opportunity for me and the players who will play to show what they’ve got,” said Karunaratne. “It’s going to be a challenge for me to work out how to utilise this inexperienced side.
“The players who will likely play – Chameera, Vishwa, Asitha and Shanaka – are all players who have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. They have a fast bowlers’ wicket to bowl on, which has got a lot of bounce and seam. I think they’ll relish this chance, and they’ll have the opportunity to firm up a place in the Test side if they do well.”
Whilst it would be foolish to give a verdict after just one innings, the 23-year old is yet to put a major foot wrong thus far in his professional career, and will be hoping to replicate his past successes long into the future, as Sri Lanka look to rebuild towards their past heights of earlier generations in the 1990s and 2000s.