Has Sri Lanka turned the corner in ODI cricket? | Daily News


Has Sri Lanka turned the corner in ODI cricket?

Player of the Series Wanindu Hasaranga ran circles around the West Indies in all three departments.
Player of the Series Wanindu Hasaranga ran circles around the West Indies in all three departments.

When the three-match One-Day International (ODI) series commenced between Sri Lanka and West Indies there wasn’t much to choose between the two sides as the host’s were ranked eighth and the visitors ninth.

West Indies came to the series on the back of a fighting performance in India where they lost the series 1-2 and then whitewashed Ireland 3-0 at home. Sri Lanka were rather apprehensive going into the series having lost their last ODI contest 0-2 to Pakistan.

By the time the West Indies arrived a lot of water had flown under the bridge and Sri Lanka had a new head coach in South African Mickey Arthur and a well established support staff comprising former Zimbabwe cricketer Andy Flower (batting coach), former Australian cricket coach and player David Sekar (fast bowling coach) and Australian Shane McDermott (fielding coach).

What the Sri Lanka cricket team needed was a jolt in the arm. Since the premature departure of Graham Ford, the players had been handled by several coaches and the team had simply meandered along with no sense of direction or focus which is reflected by their rankings in all three formats.

Fielding and fitness standards had dipped to low levels, the batting was struggling to give players permanent slots in the order and the bowling was leaking too many runs in the middle overs when other countries were taking wickets.

Then came Mickey Arthur, a stickler for discipline. He stamped his mark immediately by creating more professionalism, manifesting in better fielding and improved fitness and giving the players the confidence they had lacked that no matter what, even if they failed their places in the team were assured.

This is reflected by Sri Lanka playing the ODI series against West Indies with an unchanged side for all three matches that have not happened for quite a while and emerging triumphant by sweeping the series 3-0. The first and last matches went to the wire with Sri Lanka pulling off wins by one wicket and by six runs and, they beat West Indies rather comprehensively in the second by 161 runs.

There were no outstanding players in the series but 22-year-old Wanindu Hasaranga captured the spotlight with his batting, bowling and fielding performances that weighed heavily in him winning the Player of the Series award.

It was his cool, calm and collected knock of 42 not out that saw Sri Lanka over the line in a tightly contested first ODI at the SSC where they chased down a target of 290. In the second ODI at Hambantota he destroyed the West Indies batting for 184 taking three wickets for 30 and in the final game at Pallekele it was his bowling once again (1/41) that saw West Indies fall short of their target by six runs. In addition to his batting and bowling he was outstanding in the field cutting off many runs from the outfield.

Hasaranga is only at the initial stages of his career and should start varying his deliveries and find new ways to tempt the batsmen into playing a false stroke if he hopes to remain on top in international cricket. Remember what happened to Ajantha Mendis. He was a sensation when he entered international cricket bamboozling batsmen around the world with his ‘carrom ball’ deliveries. But it took the opposition only a few months to sort him out and once that was done he was taken to task and eventually faded away from international cricket.

The Windies batsmen no great players of spin were all at sea against Hasaranga’s wily leg-spin and googly bowling and it was his and the presence of Lakshan Sandakan and Dhananjaya de Silva in the middle overs that enabled Sri Lanka to restrict the run scoring and get wickets in that passage of play which they had been struggling to do in the recent past.

The Lankan bowling unit displayed a lot of discipline with tight control of line and length and backed up by razor sharp fielding managed to control the free-scoring West Indies stroke-makers.

Sri Lanka was able to strike the right team balance because of the return of Angelo Mathews to full fitness which enabled him to once again turn his arm over. Picked in the side as a batsman Mathews was a failure contributing just 18 runs in the three matches, but compensated in other ways to the team’s success with his fielding and bowling. Who can forget that fantastic running catch he held at mid wicket in the second ODI at Hambantota to send back Nicholas Pooran for 31 ending West Indies’ last real hope and then taking on the responsibility to bowl the final overs in the third ODI at Pallekele when Nuwan Pradeep pulled a hamstring, and producing a incredible spell at the death taking the wickets of Pollard, Holder and Allen to carry Sri Lanka to a nail-biting six-run win.

During the series the Lankan players in all probability carried out virtually all what the head coach asked for and were duly rewarded. One of them was for the top order batters to fire and having done that lay the platform for big hitters like Thisara Perera, Hasaranga and Isuru Udana to come and give the total a final boost. A team’s credibility is judged by how it recovers from bad starts and comes out victorious. This was displayed in no uncertain terms in the second ODI when Sri Lanka recovered from losing their first two wickets for nine in the third over to post their highest total against West Indies – 345-8 courtesy of two young batters in Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis who both got hundreds and figured in a record double century stand.

There were some eyebrows raised when Thisara Perera who had not played for his country for seven months was picked over Dasun Shanaka, but the selection eventually proved the right one for Perera with his batting and bowling made significant contributions and fitted nicely into the scheme of things.

Kusal Perera given the licence to free his arms and score failed to get going and he also missed a couple catches and stumping chances behind the wicket. He has Niroshan Dickwella breathing down his neck.

Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne also had a rather quiet series but led the team admirably. Since taking over the ODI reins from Lasith Malinga for the 2019 World Cup Karunaratne has an impressive record as captain winning 10 out of 14 matches with four losses. The 3-0 whitewash of West Indies was the second in consecutive series under his leadership having handed out a similar thrashing to Bangladesh in July last year. Karunaratne was not part of the Lankan ODI team that lost the series 0-2 in Pakistan having stood down from touring on the grounds of security concerns. In his absence Lahiru Thirmanne captained the side.

For the West Indies opening bat and wicket-keeper from Barbados, Shai Hope stood tall being a consistent run-scorer for them passing the fifty-run mark in all three matches that included a century and two fifties but otherwise only Nicholas Pooran and Sunil Ambris managed to cross the fifty mark. It was not so much the West Indies batting that let them down but their bowling and fielding that allowed Sri Lanka the luxury of extra runs and overs. In tight contests these little things mattered a lot.

The fast bowlers lacked the discipline to maintain a tight line and conceded 31 wides in the series and the fielding under pressure wilted with several misfields and overthrows and dropped catches which proved costly. In the midst of all this Antiguan Alzarri Joseph emerged as West Indies’ main strike bowler finishing the series as the highest wicket-taker for both sides with 10 wickets at 16.40.

For the sponsors of the series National Development Bank (NDB) they could not have asked for a better start to their entry into international cricket sponsorship – what more than a 3-0 whitewash!

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