Erratic Sri Lanka’s World Cup journey | Daily News


 

Erratic Sri Lanka’s World Cup journey

Lasith Malinga was the stand out bowler for Sri Lanka with 13 wickets. (Pictures by Kamal Jayamanna)
Lasith Malinga was the stand out bowler for Sri Lanka with 13 wickets. (Pictures by Kamal Jayamanna)

In the eyes of the connoisseur Sri Lanka’s performance at the 2019 Cricket World Cup was a disaster. But for a team ranked ninth in the ODIs and without a single win for the year it was asking too much to go and win the World Cup if not enter the semi-finals.

The team had not jelled together as one unit with many new faces and, test and tried players thrown together to make up the 15 and the reins of leadership handed to a new captain who had not played ODI cricket since the last World Cup in 2015.

With all these mismatches Sri Lanka entered the World Cup simply as no-hopers with no one even bothered to even tag them in any form. Talk was that on the form they had shown prior to the World Cup Sri Lanka were even in danger of being defeated by a fast-rising nation like Afghanistan.


Angelo Mathews one of two centurions for Sri Lanka in the World Cup.   

The opening match of the World Cup nearly proved the critics right as New Zealand simply thrashed the daylights out of the Lankans bowling them out for a paltry 136 and then knocking the runs off without losing a wicket.

Sri Lanka won a rain-shortened game against Afghanistan although they managed to score only 201. They were then without a single game for the next 11 days as both fixtures against Pakistan and Bangladesh at Bristol were washed out by rain without a ball bowled.

However against defending World Cup champions Australia, Sri Lanka botched a very good chance of upsetting the odds when they batted themselves into a position of strength and let slip a golden opportunity of winning due to their middle order muddle. Chasing a target of 335 to win Sri Lanka were nicely placed at 186-2 in 33 overs, only to fold up tamely for 247, losing their last seven wickets for 42 runs.

Coming to the game against England no one gave them a chance of beating them following their dismal batting against Australia, but on a slow Leeds pitch Sri Lanka defended their moderate total of 232-9 brilliantly by bowling out England’s strong batting line up for 212.

Old warrior Lasith Malinga was in his element prizing out four of the top six batsmen while Dhananjaya de Silva playing the role of spinner ran through the bottom half to take a career best three wickets. That shock result opened out the competition which seemed to be meandering towards a predictable semi-final. Suddenly teams like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and West Indies fancied their chances of making it into the last four.

But once again when the chance of reaching the semi-finals was within their reach Sri Lanka again messed up with a substandard batting performance against a South African side that was already out of the competition. A total of 203 was never going to be threatening and the Proteas simply proved that by knocking those runs off in 38 overs losing only one wicket.

England recovering from their reversals against Sri Lanka and Australia to record wins against India and New Zealand, effectively ruled out Sri Lanka’s chances of qualifying for a place in the semi-finals for even if they had won their remaining two matches against West Indies and India they would have still ended up with only four wins as against England’s five. That loss to South Africa proved very crucial.

As it was Sri Lanka overcame a spirited West Indies run chase to win by 23 runs, but lost their final match to India by seven wickets to end the competition with three wins and four losses out of seven completed matches.

Considering the status of the team when it first began the World Cup, winning three matches and ending up in sixth position in the league standings ahead of teams like South Africa and Bangladesh both ranked above them was in itself a fair performance.

BATTING ISSUES RESOLVED?


Avishka Fernando scored his maiden ODI century against West Indies.   

The issues the Lankan team had mainly was their batting which did not click as a unit. When the top order made runs the middle order fumbled and vice versa. Much was expected of Angelo Mathews as a middle order batsman but he came good only in patches and by the time he started to peak the World Cup was as good as over. Another middle order batting failure was Kusal Mendis who flattered to deceive and found ways of getting himself out when well set for a big innings.

Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera paired off well as openers providing the starts that weren’t coming in the series against South Africa. Karunaratne is prepared to play the role of sheet anchor and allow Perera the licence to score runs at will.

After much experimenting with the no. 3 slot Sri Lanka finally decided to give it to the youngest member of the team 21-year-old Avishka Fernando and boy didn’t he set the Lankan batting alight? In his first World Cup appearance he played the express pace of Archer and Wood like a seasoned campaigner have plenty of time to hit their 140kph plus deliveries through the line. His innings of 49 off 39 balls – 36 of them from boundaries was like a breath of fresh air to the beleaguered Lankan batting.

Fernando’s knock at the top inspired the out of form Mathews to produce his best innings after scores of 0, 0, and 9 with a fighting 85 not out that was the foundation on which Sri Lanka’s total was built. The form Fernando displayed especially against the quicks proved that it was not long before he would produce a big one. It came in the game against West Indies where he completed a century of grandeur. No doubt Fernando was the star for Sri Lanka in the World Cup and if handled properly should be getting a lot of centuries under his belt.

Lahiru Thirimanne whose batting was under scrutiny eventually came good in the final two games against West Indies and India. His unbeaten 45 gave Sri Lanka the total of 338 without which they would have lost to West Indies. He followed that up with a half-century helping his team recover from 55-4 to post a decent total of 264-7 in a century partnership with Mathews.

BOWLING LACKS PENETRATION

The failure of the batsmen to come up with competitive totals put a big burden on the bowling unit. Led by the indefatigable Lasith Malinga they played their part to a point but it was plain to see that apart from Malinga Sri Lanka don’t have the firepower and the variety to keep things under their control especially when they are confronted with strong batting line-ups on surfaces offering little or no assistance.

Malinga in his final World Cup appearance bowled his heart out to capture 13 wickets, but was let down badly by the lack of support from the other bowlers and poor catching off his bowling.

The dearth of quality spinners is a big concern for Sri Lanka, a country that at one time was replete with plenty of them. They also need to find a successor to Malinga who is expected to retire from ODIs during the home series against Bangladesh.

The World Cup has thrown in a few positives for Sri Lanka like a settled batting line up for instance with Karunaratne, Perera, Fernando, Mendis, Mathews and Thirimanne making up the top six. The all-rounders place at seven is debatable with Thisara Perera failing to fulfill his talent once again. Sri Lanka might as well have to look at Dasun Shanaka or Isuru Udana to fill that spot or slot in Dhananjaya de Silva whom they used as a spinner in the World Cup although he is an established middle order batman in Test cricket. Using a player like De Silva as the main spinner for an important event like the World Cup only exposes Sri Lanka’s alarming drought in that department.

Karunaratne in his debut as ODI captain handled the side well and gained the respect of all the players. He is also the Test captain and should continue to lead the country in the ODIs as well, having proved himself to be a successful opener in that format. 


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