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Since they were admitted as a test playing nation at the start of the 1980s, Sri Lanka have produced some brilliant cricketers in all formats. Here is a list of the best Sri Lankan players of all time.
15 Greatest Sri Lankan Cricketers
The prolific Sanath Jayasuriya will forever be remembered in the history books as the man who scored Sri Lanka’s first ever test century. Playing against India at Colombo in 1997, his marathon effort of 340 helped the team post a world record team score of 952/6 declared.
That innings of 340 contributed to Sanath Jayasuriya’s 6973 test runs and 21,032 international runs overall. He could also bowl some useful orthodox left arm spin, finishing with 440 wickets and best figures of 6/29.
This list is in no particular order and, if it had been, it would have been tempting to put Muttiah Muralitharan at the very top. His mystery spin set some bowling records in international cricket that may never be beaten.
While bowlers may be playing into their 40s these days, can anyone ever hope to overhaul Murali’s total of 800 test wickets? He also claimed 547 wickets in limited overs internationals and he currently appears twice in the top ten of best innings figures in tests.
An elegant batsman and a very competent wicket keeper, Kumar Sangakkara enjoyed a long career for Sri Lanka which ran from 2000 to 2015. He played in 594 international matches in that period and his total of 12,400 runs is the sixth highest of all time.
Sangakkara’s test batting average of 57.40 is the highest of any player in the top ten list of leading run scorers. He made no fewer than 63 international centuries with a best of 319 which came in a test match against Bangladesh in 2014.
Somachandra de Silva
He may not be the most familiar name on this list, but Somachandra de Silva can genuinely be referred to as one of Sri Lanka’s first ever greats. He was a member of the first ever test and ODI teams and he’s still remembered as being one of the best leg spinners that the country had produced.
More commonly known as D.S. De Silva, Sri Lanka’s admission into test cricket came late in his career, but he made a mark, taking 69 wickets in 53 international games, including best figures of 5/59.
Mahela Jayawardene is another Sri Lankan record holder. At the time of writing, his score of 374 against Sri Lanka in 2006 is the highest by a batter from this country. It was a phenomenal effort and one that helped this world class player reach an eventual total of 11,814 test runs.
With Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Dilshan in their top order, Sri Lanka were arguably the best batting unit of the early 2000s. Mahela Jayawardene made 54 international centuries in total and one of those came in a T20i, proving that he was effective in all formats.
Aravinda De Silva
Aravinda de Silva was another great Sri Lankan batsman and an important member of the side that won the 1996 World Cup. He was a flexible performer who could bat long in test cricket, while picking up the pace in limited overs games.
De Silva made over 15,000 runs for Sri Lanka in 93 tests and 308 ODIs. A Top score of 267 was one of 31 centuries made in the two main formats. When we think of the best Sri Lankan batters of the recent past, Aravinda de Silva can often be overlooked, but his record speaks for itself.
While he played in the shadow of Murali for much of his career, Rangana Herath was an outstanding slow bowler in his own right. He was left arm orthodox and, while he didn’t spin the ball a great deal, his flight and drift were effective weapons on most surfaces.
Herath’s total of 433 test wickets is bettered only by Muralitharan among Sri Lankan players, and they included best figures in an innings of 9/127. His weaker batting meant that he wasn’t used much in the short formats, but Herath still managed 92 wickets in 88 limited overs internationals.
Sri Lanka have not been known for a long production line of fast bowlers, but Lasith Malinga was an obvious exception. Known as ‘The Slinger’ for his unusual, round arm bowling action, he combined that pace with the ability to deliver pinpoint yorkers at the feet of the batsmen.
Injuries meant that his international red ball career was brief and he would only play in 30 tests between 2004 and 2010. He still hit the milestone of 100 test wickets, but Malinga saved his best performances for the short forms.
In 226 ODIs and 84 T20is, he claimed 445 wickets. Lasith Malinga also took the exceptional figures of 5/6 in a T20 against New Zealand in 2019.
He played internationally for 15 years between 1998 and 2013 and, the fact that Thilan Samaraweera couldn’t always nail down a regular place for Sri Lanka, tells us how strong the team were at that time.
Over 81 test matches, he finished with a batting average of 48.76 which was exceptional. Samaraweera made 5462 runs with 14 centuries and a top score of 231. He was used even less in ODIs but still managed to score two centuries in 53 games.
An occasional off spinner, Thilan Samaraweera also chipped in with 26 international wickets.
A left arm seamer with the ability to swing the ball both ways, Chaminda Vaas was the most consistent of Sri Lanka’s quicker bowlers. He claimed 355 wickets in tests and 399 in ODIs, more than any of his Sri Lankan seam bowling rivals.
Vaas made history at the 2003 World Cup when he took a hat trick from the first three balls of the match against Bangladesh. It was a memorable moment in what was a glorious career.
While he may not have been the best all round cricketer that Sri Lanka have ever produced, Arjuna Ranatunga was an inspirational captain who led the country through many of their best performances.
He was in charge of the team when Sri Lanka recorded their greatest ever triumph, winning the 1996 World Cup by beating the mighty Australians in the final. Ranatunga made a vital 47 in that final and he did have his moments with the bat. He made eight international centuries but his greatest contribution was as a combative leader.
It could be argued that Angelo Mathews is the greatest all-rounder that Sri Lanka have ever produced. Injuries at an advanced stage in his career meant that he didn’t bowl quite so much in later years, but his medium pace and power hitting with the bat have earned him a place on this list.
Mathews made his international debut in 2008 and reached the coveted milestone of 100 test matches against Pakistan in 2022. By the end of that year, he’d made almost 14,000 runs for Sri Lanka and had taken 191 wickets.
There may still be time for more, but those are impressive returns whatever Angelo Mathews does moving forward.
At a time when we are all talking about Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, Marvan Atapattu was another unsung batting hero of Sri Lankan cricket. He actually scored more test runs than Dilshan and, with six double centuries to his name, only six other players passed the 200 mark in tests on more occasions.
His test average dipped below the magical 40 mark but, as an opening bat, that’s still an exceptional record. Atapattu played his last international match in 2007 and he retired with over 14,000 runs, 27 centuries and a highest score of 249.
Another member of that victorious World Cup winning team of 1996, Hashan Tillakaratne started as a wicket keeper who could bat, but his performances improved when he gave up the keeping gloves. Tillakaratne didn’t return the best statistics, but he improved as a batsman and was generally one of Sri Lanka’s most reliable players.
Hashan Tillakaratne finished his international career with over 8,000 runs and 13 centuries. His finest moment came in a test match against the West Indies in Colombo in 2001, when his highest international score of 204 not out helped his team to a 10-wicket win.
The list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of Tillakaratne Dilshan. Along with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, he formed the ‘big three’ – a trio of world class batters that made Sri Lanka such a force in all forms of cricket.
Dilshan’s batting was boosted by some useful offspin. He could be underrated with the ball in hand and he took 154 wickets across the three international formats. But he will always be remembered for his batting and, in particular, for the innovative shot known as the ‘Dilscoop’.
Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 17,671 international runs with 39 hundreds and a top score of 193.
This is a list of 15 top Sri Lankan cricketers but who was the very best? That’s a difficult question to answer. Many would put Muttiah Muralitharan at the top but, while he was the best of the bowlers, the country produced some world class batsmen at around the same time.
In the present day, there are some talented players in the Sri Lankan national team, but they aren’t quite coming together as a unit. Perhaps it’s daunting to try to match their illustrious predecessors, but maybe there will be some new names joining this list in the future.