Sri Lanka: Lot to worry for the champion

Since winning the title in 2014, Sri Lanka has 10 defeats in 14 T20 internationals and a relatively inexperienced team will find it hard to retain the title.

Angelo Mathews and Tillakaratne Dilshan have to marshal an inexperienced batting line-up.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

Dushmantha Chameera's express pace can be more than handy.   -  PTI

Back in early September 2015, Sri Lanka lost its second successive home Test series. It was also the last series in which Kumar Sangakkara featured. Captain Angelo Mathews, when asked how the side would cope going forward, said: “It’s going to be a difficult task. We haven’t got that many seniors in the side. We will take a lot of time and we need to get the processes right. It will be tough when you are playing quality opposition. I have played about 52 Tests, a little bit more experienced than some of the other guys in the team. Now it’s past the Sanga and Mahela [Jayawardene] era, and the others need to step up. It has to be a collective effort. It won’t be a case of one individual or two individuals scoring all the time.”

Six months on, as the side begins its title defence at the ICC World T20 — a trophy which the side won with both Sangakkara and Jayawardene in tow in 2014 — there are little signs of improvement. The formats might be wholly different but not quite apples and oranges which can’t be compared with each other on any count.

Sri Lanka was once an outfit which used to lord over others in the shortest of formats. In the five editions of World T20 that have been held so far, it has one semi-final finish, two runner-up finishes and one title triumph to its name. In fact, it has the most number of wins and the highest win-percentage among all teams that have played more than 20 matches at the tournament (32 wins and 70.96%).

However, since winning the title in 2014, it has 10 defeats in 14 T20 internationals. The largely forgettable outings in the longer formats have perhaps resulted in the crisis in confidence seeping through and even stand-in captain Mathews’ words, after the loss to India in the Asia Cup, which all but eliminated the team from the tournament, seemed none too different from those uttered six months ago.

“I am repeating myself every day,” he said. “We have the team we have here; we are depending on a handful of seniors most of the time. If the seniors fail, we are in a spot of bother most of the time. Especially in a tournament like the Asia Cup and the World Cup you need a lot of seniors in the team. Unfortunately we haven’t clicked. It will take a little time for the younger guys to start performing. We have to be patient, but this is not the right time to be patient.

“It is quite damaging, especially the confidence level and the morale. You can’t keep losing, it’s difficult to digest. So close to the World Cup, we have to connect the dots together and maybe try a few combinations.”

In the team picked for the T20 extravaganza in India, Sri Lanka has retained most of the bowlers who were part of the 2014 team. Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara have both returned from injury though the former’s body seems to be held together by something as flimsy as a cello tape. The experienced Rangana Herath has made a comeback too after missing the tour to India even as Mathews and spinner Sachitra Senanayake will augment the resources.

But it’s the batting which has a worrisome look to it. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mathews have in them the ability to marshal an inexperienced top-seven replete with as yet unproven talent. However, Dilshan’s form is in itself suspect. Until he scored 75 runs in the dead Asia Cup rubber against Pakistan, he had only 86 runs from seven outings since the turn of the year. Even Dinesh Chandimal is to establish himself in a format that looks so tailor-made for him. Kusal Perera is serving a doping-related suspension and the dashing opening batsman’s absence would have never been felt more severely.

The team:

Angelo Mathews (capt), Lasith Malinga, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Shehan Jayasuriya, Milinda Siriwardena, Dasun Shanaka, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dushmantha Chameera, Thisara Perera, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath and Jeffrey Vandersay.

Players to watch out for:

Dushmantha Chameera: It has been under a year since Sri Lankan fast-bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake called him the most exciting bowler since Malinga. He was then blessed only with raw pace; an ability to consistently clock 140kmph. The 24-year-old is now increasingly showing signs of adding accuracy to his repertoire as well. He picked up his maiden five-for against New Zealand in December. In the recent T20 in Pune he troubled India with his pace. It was a green track but even on surfaces not so conducive to fast-bowling, express pace can be more than handy.

Dinesh Chandimal: He was a designated wicket-keeper bat. Then he was the captain too. Now he is a pure batsman. So highly is his batting rated that the Lankan selectors have been more than happy to relieve him of all other responsibilities, even in these times of multi-utility cricketers, to focus entirely on his batting. But with an average less than 20 in close to 40 matches, Chandimal has a lot to prove. An emphatic statement on the biggest of stages might help.

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