Admitted, Sri Lanka were ejected from the World Cup in the group stages. And they did notch three losses against Australia, South Africa and England between their wins against Bangladesh and West Indies in the Super 12s. But did they also exceed hopes with some excellent performances? True, three out of five wins were against [...]


Sri Lanka’s epic journey in the ICC World Cup T20


Pix courtesy Sameera Peiris in Dubai

Admitted, Sri Lanka were ejected from the World Cup in the group stages. And they did notch three losses against Australia, South Africa and England between their wins against Bangladesh and West Indies in the Super 12s.

But did they also exceed hopes with some excellent performances?

True, three out of five wins were against ‘minnows’. But didn’t Sri Lanka push teams like South Africa and England to the brink of defeat?

The only game Sri Lanka were completely outplayed in was the one with Australia, where they failed across all departments to challenge the men in yellow. Expectations in the team were realistic leading to the World Cup. Not only was there little anticipation of them reaching the semis–the fear was also that Sri Lanka would be eliminated from the qualifying round as they hadn’t shown much by way of form.

They had lost to South Africa badly at home, giving away the series 3-0 and forcing selectors to make some last-minute changes to the squad. Pathum Nissanka, for instance, was not in the original list of players or even in the reserve list of four but was brought in to the side. Lahiru Kumara, Akila Dananjaya and Binura Fernando were among the reserves who were drafted into the 15 when the squad was shuffled belatedly.

There were changes to the batting order, too. Nissanka was promoted at the top of the order to partner Kusal Perera. And, man, what a tournament the 23-year-old had–ending the tour as the second-highest scorer at the time Sri Lanka exited. His 221 runs came off eight games and included three half-centuries.

The manner in which he manoeuvred the field was impressive, sneaking in singles and hitting mostly down the ground, without trying to employ big hits. The flick played against Ravi Rampaul by walking wide to his off-stump and hitting it to the deep square leg boundary has earned him a comparison with Australian batter Steve Smith, who has a unique approach to his batting.

From not being in the running for a place to being the second-highest scorer in the tournament is amazing. In him, Sri Lanka have discovered an opener who can anchor an innings.

Charith Asalanka was the find of the tournament. He has been a revelation at No.3, a position Sri Lanka have long struggled to fill since batting great Kumar Sangakkara retired. The former Under-19 skipper, Asalanka has the left-hander’s elegance where he picks the length early and plays the ball late. What we have seen throughout the World Cup was him playing with positive intent from the time he comes to the crease. His two half-centuries–80 against Bangladesh and 68 against West Indies–are nothing short of classy.

With 231 runs in six innings, he was the leading scorer at the time Sri Lanka departed, and the mark he left in this year’s World Cup will stand in good stead for him as he looks forward to a long journey with the national team.

Sri Lankan success often comes on the back of great slow bowling-think of Muttiah Muralidaran, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath baffling the opposition–and Wanindu Hasaranga is very much of that kind. The leg-spinner stamped his class, collecting 16 wickets in eight games to be the leading wicket taker of the tournament, earning much respect from opposition batters.

The 24-year-old is currently the ICC top-ranked bowler: the first time a Sri Lankan bowler reached the top since Ajantha Mendis in 2011. He was well supported by Maheesh Theekshana, the mystery spinner. While spinners made headlines, the pace attack earned plaudits for bowling aggressively and overpowering the opposition’s batting lineups.

Dushmantha Chameera is a cut above the rest. He has come a long way to be a world class bowler. Lahiru Kumara is early in his career and has got the pace and a decent yorker. With experience, he could be handy. Chamika Karunaratne has done the job he was given and his never-give-up attitude was a treat to watch.

“There are few cricket lovers who will be disappointed to see #Sri Lanka go,” tweeted renowned commentator Harsha Bhogle, after Sri Lanka exited the tournament with an impressive 20-run win over West Indies.

“The talent in players like Asalanka, Nissanka has been wonderful to see. Add Rajapaksa, Hasaranga, Chameera, Karunaratne, Theekshana and there is a great base to build on,”

Shanaka the captain

The burden he was carrying might have impacted his own performance, but Shanaka made Sri Lanka into a competitive unit under his leadership. In hindsight, there were things he could have done better in certain situations.

But how he marshalled a young team with limited experience deserves credit. Shanaka should be kept on as skipper and a team built around him. Another T20 World Cup falls within 12 months. If properly managed, this team has what it takes to become champions. Shanaka’s role in that is undisputed.

As Mickey Arthur rightly observed, it was inconsistencies that led to the team not achieving their best. Sri Lanka should now strive for consistency in selection so that players will strive hard for consistency in all areas–a formula to take the team to greater heights.

“Consistency in message, consistency in selection, and consistency in role clarity,” Arthur said, referring to the three key ingredients he believed the young Sri Lankan side needed.

Arthur is likely to be heading home at the end of his term with Sri Lanka Cricket not in favour of granting him an extension. It had been a challenging couple of years during which Arthur instilled belief in the young lions.

“The Sri Lankan nation can be incredibly proud of the attitude, the intensity, and the work ethic of this group,” he said.

“They’ve been wonderful. We’ve shaken up the World Cup. We’re not going to qualify (for the semi-finals) this year, but Sri Lankan cricket is now in good hands.”

The Issues

Before the tournament started, Avishka Fernando was in great touch, batting at No.4, a position Mahela Jayawardena thought to be the best fit for the right-hander. But he did little during the Super 12 to take advantage of it. Kusal Perera, the opener, was a pale shadow of himself throughout the tournament and his wicket-keeping was below par as he missed a number of straightforward chances.

It’s puzzling as to why Sri Lanka persisted with Perera, despite his bad form with the bat and also poor fielding, when they had experienced Dinesh Chandimal as a replacement. It is true that Chandimal did not grab the opportunity when it had been offered him in the qualifying stage but his keeping alone would have made a difference, even if his batting did not prosper.

Another area Sri Lanka would expect a quick turn-around in is their death bowling. Over the years, Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekera have done the job but they are in need of someone to partner Dushmantha Chameera during that leg. This is one of the key reasons Sri Lanka lost their games against South Africa and England with poor execution playing into the hands of opposition batters.

Mahela’s impact

Everyone agrees that the presence of Mahela Jayawardena as Consultant Coach brought in a new dimension to the team. This was visible as they played with renewed energy and confidence from the get-go. Before joining them physically, Jayawardena provided key input and made several changes to the make-up of the team during the planning stages.

The T20 World Cup 2021 is done and dusted, and with less than 12 months for the next edition in Australia, Sri Lanka’s preparation should start now. As Mickey Arthur says: “Consistency in message, consistency in selection, and consistency in role clarity,” is what is required.

Youth-flavoured Sri Lanka, a team for the future
Sri Lanka, as the second youngest team in the ongoing T20 World Cup might have carried enough rookies with them, but the highlight has been the young finds and some of them firing in on all cylinders.One such young blood has been the in-form – Wanindu Hasaranga – having evidently made the most in his maiden World Cup, at any ICC tournament, and finishing this tournament with 16 wickets, easily five victims ahead than his second best counterpart, Shakib Al Hasan.

The cream on the cake for the 24-year-old was his first hat-trick, prompting and promoting him as the No.1 T20 bowler after his three-in-three against the South Africans.

The all-rounder in an all-round performance also stood out with the bat registering his highest score of 71.

The next best for the 2014 champions was his fellow spinner Maheesh Theekshana, concluding his debut world cup also with eight victims, but more importantly earned the name of ‘mystery spinner’.

Theekshana, 21, the youngest in the team, not only ably supported his senior spinner but also collected his career-best of 3 for 17 and is in top 10 wicket-takers list in the showpiece tournament.

However, the flop for the islanders with an average team age of 26, has been coincidentally their senior most player in Dinesh Chandimal.

The former captain, though returned to the squad after long lapse, was only a misfiring passenger, cutting a pathetic figure, axed from the side after one match itself and only 11 runs to his name.

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