Out-of-form Sri Lanka hoping overhauled squad avoid World Cup ignominy
Ranked ninth in the world, Sri Lanka go into the 2019 Cricket World Cup among the outsiders.
Defeats to Afghanistan and Bangladesh saw them crash out in the first group stage of last year’s Asia Cup, and they lost 11 of their next 12 completed ODIs afterwards.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and that meant the appointment of Dimuth Karunaratne as captain – four years after he last played an ODI.
Experienced heads such as Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga are still there, but Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga are among the players left out.
Karunaratne, however, has not played ODI cricket for so long for a reason – his first 13 innings brought just 190 runs.
The decision smacked of desperation, not least when you consider Jeevan Mendis (last ODI: 2015), Lahiru Thirimanne, Milinda Siriwardana and Jeffrey Vandersay (all 2017) have also been recalled.
Clearly, Sri Lanka do not know what their best team is and they were frustrated by the weather in their warm-ups too – their first game against Scotland falling foul of the rain.
In Malinga, they still boast one of the genuine stars of world cricket – and his IPL final heroics prove his form is still there.
But where Malinga used to be just one of a team of icons – think Sangakarra, Jayawardene and Vaas, for example – he is fighting a lonely cause now.
The Sri Lankan selectors have made some bold decisions ahead of this World Cup – and something had to change given their dreadful form.
But this team is one of the weakest in recent times from the island, and it could be a long, frustrating five weeks for them in England.
Key player: Lasith Malinga
Lasith Malinga will bring his ODI career to a close after the World Cup, but the 35-year-old goes into the tournament as a vital player for Sri Lanka.
While no longer captain, his slingy pace bowling, variations and slower-ball yorkers continue to befuddle the world’s best batsman.
It was Malinga who bowled the final ball for Mumbai Indians as they won the IPL – a slower ball, of course – and he finished the tournament with 16 wickets in 12 games.
In between, he returned home to play for Galle in Sri Lanka’s Super Provincial One Day Tournament – and finished with eight wickets in two innings, including a career-best 7-49.
Malinga’s economy rate, particularly at the top of an innings, is not always great but his propensity for wickets and excellent death bowling remains undiminished.
Others to watch
Thisara Perera faced just 73 balls at the Bangladesh Premier League earlier this year, but he finished it with 151 runs at a strike rate of 206.84.
He also hit a 57-ball century on his way to 140 as Sri Lanka lost to New Zealand in Mount Maunganui in January.
It is surprising to say the least then, that he still finds himself a lower-order pinch-hitter rather than an established member of the Sri Lanka middle order.
Indeed his bowling is his main asset – and he took seven wickets in four games at the Super Four tournament.
Perera has still not found his identity in this Sri Lankan team, but his wicket-taking talent and his big-hitting ability make him a key member nonetheless.
Sacked as ODI captain last year, Angelo Mathews is in the World Cup squad and has a big point to prove.
Mathews paid the price for Sri Lanka’s early Asia Cup exit, while selectors also pointed to his lack of ‘cricket fitness’ and poor running between the wickets.
He responded in the best possible way – piling on the runs in the Super Four with scores of 78, 47 and 101 in Dambulla’s final three matches.
Mathews was named batsman of the tournament, restored to Sri Lanka’s ODI team and the 31-year-old is set to become a key figure once more.
In 203 matches, Mathews has scored 5,380 ODI runs and taken 114 wickets – though it is for his batting he has been selected.
Mathews still averages comfortably above 40 in ODI cricket and Sri Lanka need him back to his best if they are to put their own poor form behind them.
Dhananjaya de Silva
Off-spinning all-rounder Dhananjaya de Silva struggled in the past to hold down a regular spot in this Sri Lanka team but recent performances have established his role.
Player of the tournament at the Super Four, where he scored 160 runs in four games and claimed 3-57 in his only bowling performance, De Silva travels in top form.
It was his bowling that earned Sri Lanka test series success against South Africa this year too, and he was in the wickets in the subsequent ODI series as well.
Dubbing him Sri Lanka’s answer to Moeen Ali might be overstating his importance a little, but there is no doubt the Lions need him firing with bat and ball.
Sri Lanka squad for ICC Cricket World Cup 2019
|Dimuth Karunaratne (c)||31||Batsman|
|Angelo Mathews||31||All-rounder (RFM)|
|Dhananjaya de Silva||27||All-rounder (OS)|
|Thisara Perera||30||All-rounder (RM)|
|Isuru Udana||31||All-rounder (LFM)|
|Jeffrey Vandersay||29||Bowler (LS)|
|Jeevan Mendis||36||All-rounder (LS)|
|Milinda Siriwardana||33||All-rounder (SLA)|
|Lasith Malinga||35||Bowler (RF)|
|Suranga Lakmal||32||Bowler (RFM)|
|Nuwan Pradeep||32||Bowler (RFM)|
June 4 – Sri Lanka vs Afghanistan (Sophia Gardens, Cardiff)
A measure of whether Sri Lanka can be competitive at this Cricket World Cup will come as early as their second match, when they take on Afghanistan in Cardiff.
They were bowled out for just 158 in the corresponding fixture in Abu Dhabi during the Asia Cup, crashing out in the group stage as a result.
Defeat to the lowest-ranked team in this year’s tournament could set the tone for a frustrating month for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka Cricket World Cup 2019 fixtures
|June 1||New Zealand||Sophia Gardens, Cardiff|
|June 4||Afghanistan||Sophia Gardens, Cardiff|
|June 7||Pakistan||County Ground, Bristol|
|June 11||Bangladesh||County Ground, Bristol|
|June 15||Australia||The Oval, London|
|June 21||England||Headingley, Leeds|
|June 28||South Africa||Riverside, Chester-le-Street|
|July 1||West Indies||Riverside, Chester-le-Street|
|July 6||India||Headingley, Leeds|
Happy to avoid
While Kenyan cricket may never again reach the peak of their semi-final appearance at the 2003 World Cup, few fans will have forgotten their win against Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka only lost once in the first group stage, as they found Collins Obuya practically unplayable in Nairobi – bowled out for 157 in reply to Kenya’s 210/9.
Both teams eventually crashed out in the semi-finals, with Kenya’s victory still the only time Sri Lanka have ever lost against an associate team in an official ODI.
Sri Lanka arrive at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in poor form, having slipped to ninth in the ODI world rankings.
The Lions suffered an embarrassing early exit at the Asia Cup and have never really recovered – losing 11 of their next 12 matches.
Their lone win, against England, was in a dead rubber as they crashed to a 3-1 defeat in their rain-affected home series.
Whitewashes in New Zealand (3-0) and South Africa (5-0) then followed, prompting the squad overhaul for the World Cup.
Sri Lanka’s lowly world ranking is fully merited after their poor form in recent times and the squad overhaul – as necessary as it was – smacks of desperate decision-making.
Lasith Malinga remains one of the world’s best, but Sri Lanka lack the strength in depth.
If performances do not improve in England, there is a real danger they could finish bottom of the pile.