There are two aspects here that require examination.
Despite declining lately, Sri Lanka has been a formidable T20I team, making three T20 World Cup finals and winning the 2014 edition against India.
1. Sanath Jayasuriya
T20I stats – 629 runs, 23.29 average, 129.15 strike rate, four fifties, 19 wickets, 24 average, 7.37 economy
When on song, Jayasuriya was one man bowlers hated bowling to. It doesn’t matter how quick the bowlers were, Sanath Jayasuriya would slap them over cow corner and cover for fun. Playing a key role in Sri Lanka’s 2009 T20 World Cup road to the final (where they’d end up runners up), Jayasuriya was a capable left-arm spinner as well.
2. Tillakaratne Dilshan
T20I stats – 1889 runs, 28.19 average, 120.54 strike rate, one hundred, nine wickets, 34.77 average, 7.27 economy
An exciting batsman to watch, I find it incredibly surprising that Tillakaratne Dilshan’s strike rate in T20 internationals is below 125. Perhaps the slower nature of surfaces on the subcontinent played a factor in that. Either way, Dilshan was a man opposition teams were wary of as he was a match-winner. The second Sri Lankan batsman to score an international hundred in every format, Dilshan is Sri Lanka’s leading run-scorer in T20 internationals.
3. Kumar Sangakkara (wicketkeeper)
T20I stats – 1382 runs, 31.4 average, 119.55 strike rate, eight fifties, 25 catches, 20 stumpings
Words will never do justice as to how good Kumar Sangakkara was as a cricketer. A man who personified class and elegance, Sangakkara often anchored Sri Lanka’s innings in T20 cricket, giving his partners the freedom to slog. With 45 dismissals behind the stumps in T20 internationals, Kumar Sangakkara takes the gloves in the XI.
4. Kusal Perera
T20I stats – 1293 runs, 28.11 average, 135.25 strike rate, 12 fifties
A man whose batting style is very similar to Sanath Jayasuriya, Kusal Perera has been the shining light in an underwhelming Sri Lankan T20 side lately. Powerful and aggressive, Kusal Perera doesn’t think twice when taking on bowlers. One of the best T20 cricketers Sri Lanka has produced, it won’t be long before Perera overtakes Dilshan’s record of being the leading T20I run-scorer for Sri Lanka.
5. Mahela Jayawardene (captain)
T20I stats – 1493 runs, 31.77 average, 133.18 strike rate, one hundred
Although Jayawardene enjoyed most of his T20I success at the top order, I feel his versatility and experience makes him suitable at number five. A gap finder who could also clear the ropes with ease, Jayawardene was a classy batsman to watch. The first Sri Lankan cricketer to score international hundreds in all three formats, Jayawardene also leads the XI as Sri Lanka had success under him.
6. Angelo Mathews
T20I stats – 1119 runs, 26.64 average, 118.66 strike rate, five fifties, 37 wickets, 31.92 average, 6.93 economy
Although the strike rate doesn’t reflect it, Mathews has been a handy finisher for Sri Lanka. Often having to come in to stop collapses, Angelo Mathews has been able to deliver for Sri Lanka most times regardless of the situation. A handy medium pacer, Angelo Mathews has been a match-winner for the Lions and will continue to do so in the future.
7. Thisara Perera
T20I stats – 1201 runs, 24.02 average, 152.6 strike rate, three fifties, 51 wickets, 32.84 average, 9.22 economy
The most powerful striker of the ball in Sri Lankan cricket, Thisara Perera has been one heck of a finisher down the order. Smashing sixes for fun, Perera’s late cameos has given Sri Lanka to put up totals above par and has won games for Sri Lanka with both bat and ball. Although Perera has been expensive with the ball, he is a handy sixth bowling option for the middle overs.
8. Nuwan Kulasekara
T20I stats – 66 wickets, 23.18 average, 7.45 economy
Sometimes regarded as the right-arm Chaminda Vaas for his ability to swing the ball, Nuwan Kulasekara was a quality T20 bowler for Sri Lanka. Nipping the new ball in late to right handers, Kulasekara picked up wickets in the power play overs and nailed his variations in the death overs.
9. Sachithra Senanayake
T20I stats – 25 wickets, 21.96 average, 6.77 economy
Considering wrist spinners have been king of T20 cricket, it’s often forgotten how traditional off spinners survived in the early eras of T20 internationals. All Senanayake did was bowl accurate off breaks and tie up an end while his counterparts picked up wickets. In the 2014 T20 World Cup, Senanayake picked up four wickets at an average of 20.25 and an impressive economy of 4.9 as Sri Lanka lifted the trophy.
10. Ajantha Mendis
T20I stats – 66 wickets, 14.42 average, 6.45 economy
With a bag of tricks up his sleeve, Ajantha Mendis was one heck of a bowler in the shortest format. With his mystery spinners turning both ways and bamboozling batsmen, Mendis’ T20I economy would take over 30 games to go over a run a ball. Now retired, Mendis finished an impressive T20I career with two six-wicket hauls.
11. Lasith Malinga
T20I stats – 107 wickets, 20.79 average, 7.42 economy
Undoubtedly the greatest T20 bowler of all time, I’d be incredibly stupid and naive not to include Malinga in this XI.