Team Sri Lanka preview: Aiming to rise above chaos

In four World Cups in England, Sri Lanka has never reached the second round and has won only four of its 17 games.

Problems aplenty: While Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne (right) has not played a one-day international in four years, the return of Angelo Mathews to the side is some consolation.   -  reuters

Despite winning the ICC World Cup once and finishing runner-up twice, Sri Lanka has an extremely poor World Cup record in England. In four World Cups in England, it has never reached the second round and won only four of its 17 games. There has been the odd spark, like when Bandula Warnapura’s team stunned a strong Indian outfit in 1979, the win that pushed its case for Test status 18 months later.

But overall, in England it has been a flop. Entering the 1999 edition as defending champion, Arjuna Ranatunga’s side managed to beat only lowly Kenya and Zimbabwe.

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When Sri Lanka has done well in England, like when it won a tri-nation tournament in 1998 also involving South Africa or when it beat the host 5-0, it was in the latter part of the summer. During early summer in England, the Lankan batsmen have had problems with the moving ball.

To address the issue, the Sri Lankans arrived in England three weeks prior to the competition. It was one of the first teams to arrive in England and is training in a private facility — Merchant Taylors’ School in London.

Going through a crisis

Sri Lankan cricket is at an all-time low. It is currently ninth in the ODI rankings, which is its worst in history. No one is giving the team a chance to make it to the semifinals as it seems to have done little planning ahead of the tournament. Five of the 15-member squad have not played an ODI for 18 months, while captain Dimuth Karunaratne and Jeewan Mendis have not featured in an ODI for more than four years now. Some of the notable absentees in the Sri Lankan squad are Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal, Dasun Shanaka, Akila Dananjaya and Upul Tharanga, who had featured in white-ball cricket frequently in the last 24 months. Former captains Kumar Sangakkara and Aravinda de Silva have disapproved of the axing of Dickwella.

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The Sri Lankans play just one game in the south of England with The Oval hosting its clash against Australia. It will play two games each in Bristol and Wales while the rest of the time it is up north where the spinners will be of little use. In June, it will be bitterly cold up north, wickets will not be dry and not favourable for spinners.

The former champion is buoyed by the return of Angelo Mathews; its most experienced batsman after opening batsman Upul Tharanga was snubbed. Mathews has not played any cricket since the tour of New Zealand in December 2018, having been forced to return home with a hamstring injury. Often bowled out without utilising its full quota of 50 overs in recent months, Sri Lanka will be looking for Mathews to hold its innings together. The selectors were contemplating a move to push the former captain to No. 4 from his customary No. 5 position.

Above him at No. 3 will be one of the brightest young prospects in world cricket — Kusal Mendis. At the age of 24, Mendis already has seven international hundreds and not even the great Kumar Sangakkara could boast of such credentials at that age. Mendis will be Sri Lanka’s back up wicketkeeper.

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Kusal Janith Perera, Sri Lanka’s hero during its stunning series win in South Africa, also returns to the side, having recovered from a hamstring injury. His explosive batting will be vital at the top of the order and he will be the No. 1 choice wicketkeeper, although his keeping is not the tidiest. Lasith Malinga with 322 wickets to his name is the highest wicket-taker in the world among active cricketers. None of the participants in this tournament have taken more than the 43 wickets he has taken in three World Cups, which include two hat-tricks.

Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga sets the field as umpire Richira Palliyaguru watches during their first one-day international cricket match with England in Dambulla, Sri Lanka.   -  AP

 

Impact player

All-rounder Thisara Perera, one of the brightest talents, has blown hot and cold, but in recent times he appears to have turned a huge corner. He had given up first-class cricket in 2012 to make most of the opportunities from mushrooming T20 franchises. But last year he was told to get back to first-class cricket to work on his bowling. He also improved his off-side play and defence and the results have been impressive.

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Since January 2018, Perera has averaged 34 with the bat, significantly higher than his career average of 20. With the ball he has averaged 25 whereas his career average is 31. Perera will be Sri Lanka’s impact player in the World Cup.

Fielding used to be one area that Sri Lanka was good at. When it was successful, it was easily the best fielding side in Asia. While its Asian neighbours have taken fielding to a next level, the Lankans stagnated. The board roped in Steve Rixon, who has coached three international teams, to address the fielding woes in December last year. Rixon is confident that his charges will make an impact with their fielding during the World Cup.