Sri Lanka One Day International cricket players’ list beginning from Somachandra de Silva and ending at Ramesh Mendis has a total of 197 players. And out of that almost 80 have played dominant roles in the middle-order, an area the present Sri Lanka white-ball team is exploring possibilities of laying a strong and permanent foundation. [...]


Start of a Journey

Coach Mickey Arthur sees English tour as an ‘opportunity’ for ‘young’ Lankan team

Sri Lanka One Day International cricket players’ list beginning from Somachandra de Silva and ending at Ramesh Mendis has a total of 197 players. And out of that almost 80 have played dominant roles in the middle-order, an area the present Sri Lanka white-ball team is exploring possibilities of laying a strong and permanent foundation.

With many options in hand in the likes of Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella, Pathum Nissanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Oshada Fernando, Charith Asalanka, Ramesh Mendis and Wanindu Hasaranga, coach Mickey Arthur is in pursuit for the fitting candidates for the fourth, fifth and sixth positions of the batting order, or in clear, the middle-order.

For a team that reigned the Cricket World title 25 years ago and virtually ruled the world of limited overs cricket for many years to come ever since, Arthur too has been in the receiving end for his experimental procedure with a ‘young’ Sri Lankan team that has fallen apart during the recent years. Of late winning matches has not been a luxury the cricketers are able to enjoy as consistency and relentless are far within the reach of the current team.

But the South African born coach has been highly positive during the whole exercise and he believes the team’s ‘white-ball journey’ has just begun, for here to stay. With skipper Kusal Janith Perera, Avishka Fernando and Danushka Gunathilaka winning Arthur’s confidence to occupy the openers’ and one-down slots while Sri Lanka’s woes solely remain on the middle-order. This was exploited in the recent tour to Bangladesh which the tourists lost 2-1.

“There were lot of learning from the Bangladesh tour. We changed our brand a little bit, and got caught to a little bit, particularly in the middle overs. That’s one of the areas that we have concentrated hard on here (in England), in practices and preparations,” Arthur said.

Analysis have shown that in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka managed just from 100 to 125 runs in that middle phase, indicating of one area that the present side should improve on. In whole, the Sri Lanka coaching outfit has brainstormed on their rival sides’ progress in the middle phase and have gathered data from other top ranked sides, which has resulted in a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for the Sri Lankan cricketers.

“In the final game against Bangladesh I thought we got it right, particularly during power plays. We need to be an attacking team, for that we need to have confident. It’s going to take time, we have to be realistic in that. We have changed a little bit, and optimistically, have given us positive results,” he added.

Unlike the recent years, the current team has become an unpredictable lot though individually players are as equally brilliant and talented as any international cricketer from other nations. Even winning comes as a rare case to rejoice nowadays for a team where winning was a habit some years back.

“We can’t be top heavy about the ones who can bat on top and finish for us. We need to rotate strike and have intensity in the middle order, we have actually practiced it,” Arthur elaborated.

“The middle order is something that we have tried to get. We have reclassified our roles. We have a lot of players who could bat at 1, 2 and 3, but we do not have that in 4, 5 and 6. We have consolidated in our practice sessions. One or two players have had to change their roles, the players we have asked to and players who we think they can do it. So we have changed it, just a little bit.”

What Sri Lanka is now craving for is something once which came naturally from its cricketers — consistency and security. There were times when Sri Lankan cricket lovers were not bothered of losing a batsman or two in the top order, with a solid middle and low order in place. Certain cricketers, who came in as middle-order batsmen, were so consistent and dependable that they went on to become solid openers and top order batsmen. Sanath Jayasuriya, Romesh Kaluwitharana, TM Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are just a few in this list. It was because they had a stronger middle order in the likes of Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Hashan Tillakaratne, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva and many more to follow.

But today, Sri Lanka’s story of success is running in the opposite direction with pressure mounting to stay atop. Newcomers Afghanistan, Scotland, Ireland, Nepal and Oman and even low ranked Bangladesh, Netherlands and Zimbabwe have indicated their true intention in world cricket. The United States of America is another nation that is aiming at stamping their authority in world cricket.

Being a country that reached the pinnacle of world cricket in all formats and even rule the world for many years, Sri Lanka cannot afford to conduct experiments at global stage. But, that’s the only platform the island nation has to call their shots. The current tour to England is one such.

“It’s a massive challenge for our young team, but it’s a wonderful opportunity. As long as we keep progressing and keep getting better, that for me is good. I just want to see us progressing, and see a team building that will be competitive with the rest of the world. If we meet our KPIs, the results will start coming,” pinning his hopes on the team, Arthur stated.

During the recent months Sri Lanka cricket had the additional services of Tom Moody as Director of Cricket, ahead of Arthur as Head Coach and others in the coaching unit. They have collectively made changes and alterations in accordance to the game-day, but are yet to see a total transformation as a solid international side.

“We have got to settle down in a batting order as soon as we can. We can’t rotate players all the time. The guys know where they are now, what their roles are going to be. We need to back them and make them world class.”

Arthur, being with the Sri Lanka team since December 2019, is resolute in shaping the team with a structured batting lineup. The purpose — creating consistency and position.

” We’ve got to identify our best players in key areas, and we have to back them for a certain period to deliver the goods. We have to give them that security so they can go out there and play freely and with confident. Consistency and game plans will certainly will help players deliver their best,” asserted Arthur, who termed the tour of England as the start of a journey.

“I have told my boys that this is the start of a journey and you are the players we are looking at to go forward with.”

Sri Lanka will play three T20 Internationals on June 23, 24 and 26, followed by three ODIs on June 29, July 1 and 4.

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