When Rangana Herath announced his retirement during the Galle Test against England in 2018, Sri Lanka suffered yet another setback in their quest to rebuild the team. Following the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan, who had taken 800 wickets and was Sri Lanka’s ultimate match-winner, it was Herath who helped Sri Lanka maintain their consistency. The left-arm spinner, who made his debut in 1999, became the leading left-arm bowler in the world as he finished with 433 wickets in 93 Tests. However, in the Durban Test against South Africa in February 2019, Sri Lanka unearthed a new gem and a bowler who can potentially fill the void left by Herath. On day 3, 22-year-old left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya created history with a five-wicket haul to give Sri Lanka a faint chance.
Embuldeniya had taken the wickets of Dean Elgar (35) and Temba Bavuma (3) but a 96-run stand between Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis boosted the Proteas towards a healthy lead. De Kock was trapped LBW by Embuldeniya for 55 but Faf du Plessis neared a century and he shared a 60-run stand with Vernon Philander. However, after the lunch break, Vishwa Fernando got rid of du Plessis for 90 and Embuldeniya got the wickets of Philander (18) and Kagiso Rabada (0) as he finished with a haul of 5/66 from 26 overs. Fernando’s haul of 4/71 resulted in South Africa losing five wickets for eight runs.
In the process, Embuldeniya created history by becoming only the fourth Sri Lanka bowler in history to take a five-wicket haul on debut. In 1986, left-arm pacer Kosala Kuruppuarachchi became the first Sri Lankan to take five-wickets on debut during the Pakistan Test in Colombo as the hosts won the match by eight wickets. Upul Chandana, the legspinner, became the first Sri Lankan to take a five-wicket haul on debut overseas when he took 6/179 against Pakistan in Dhaka in 2000 but Sri Lanka lost the game by an innings and 175 runs. Akila Dananjaya took 5/24 against Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2018. Embuldeniya is the first Sri Lankan to take a five-wicket haul on debut outside the sub-continent.
Embuldeniya made his First-Class debut in 2017 for Nondescripts Cricket Club. In 21 games at the domestic level, the tall left-arm bowler has taken 125 wickets at an average of 20.13. His major success in 2019 came in the game against Saracens Sports Club at the Colts Ground in Colombo. Embuldeniya picked up 6/96 and 3/66 but Saracens won the game convincingly. He followed it up with 4/86 against the Sinhalese Sports Club at the P Sara Stadium. Following the 0-2 rout against Australia, Sri Lanka appointed some fresh faces in the side and Dimuth Karunaratne was made the stand-in captain in place of Dinesh Chandimal.