Colombo: Sri Lankan middle-order batsman Thilan Samaraweera, who was earlier overlooked by the selectors for the upcoming tour to South Africa, has been reinstated in the squad, sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage said on Tuesday.
"I had a meeting with the national selectors and I have approved their request," the minister, whose approval in necessary for all selections, told reporters.
The decision to drop the cricketer came under heavy criticism from fans, particularly after Sri Lankan batsmen fared miserably in the three-match Test series against Pakistan, which they lost 0-1.
The 35-year-old right-hander was dropped for the third Test against Australia at home in September. Samaraweera, who has scored 4,683 runs in 68 Tests at an average of 52.61 with 12 centuries, was subsequently overlooked by the selectors for the series against Pakistan in the UAE. Sri Lanka lost to Pakistan in all three formats of the game on that tour.
The move prompted skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan to bat down the order with an aim to provide more opportunity to left-handed batsman Lahiru Thirimanne at the top.
Samaraweera will now be the 17th player in the squad, which is scheduled to play three Tests and five ODIs against the Proteas starting from December 15. Sri Lanka play a practice match in Benoni from December 9-11 before the first Test starts at the Centurion. The remaining Tests will be held in Durban and Cape Town.
Sri Lanka have never won a Test match in the African nation and the tour will be an ideal opportunity for the players to set that record right.
Squad: Tillakaratne Dilshan (c), Angelo Mathews, Tharanga Paranavitana, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Kaushal Silva (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne, Chanaka Welegedara, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Thisara Perera, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath, Thilan Samaraweera