Sri Lanka was once an outfit that lorded over the others in the shortest of formats. In the five editions of the World T20 held so far, it has one semifinal appearance, two runner-up finishes and one title. In fact, it has the most wins and the highest win-percentage among all teams that have played more than 20 matches in the tournament (22 wins, 70.97%).
However, in the past two years, its form has not been befitting of a team with such glorious history. Struggling to cope with the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, it has had 10 defeats in the 14 T20Is since the trophy triumph. The loss of the legendary duo was no doubt big, but for a side which has always punched above its weight and taken great pride in routinely mocking popular theories, recent times have indeed been dark.
Angelo Mathews’s reaction after the loss to India in the Asia Cup was quite revealing. Back in September 2015, when Sangakkara retired from Tests, the all-rounder spoke about how it was important for collective effort in the future, and not one or two individuals scoring all the time. But, this was a trait one could always identify Sri Lankan teams with in the shorter versions. Now, the loss of the same has led to some understandable panic.
“I am repeating myself every day,” he said. “We have the team we have here; we are depending on a handful of seniors most of the time. If the seniors fail, we are in a spot of bother most of the time. Especially, in tournaments like the Asia Cup and World Cup, you need a lot of seniors in the side. It will take a little time for the younger guys to start performing. We have to be patient, but this is not the right time to be patient.
“It is quite damaging, especially for the confidence level and the morale. You can’t keep losing, it’s difficult to digest. So close to the World Cup, we have to connect the dots together and, maybe, try out a few combinations.”
Sri Lanka has retained the core of the bowling attack from its successful campaign in 2014. Captain Lasith Malinga — his suspect body not withstanding — and Nuwan Kulasekara have both returned. The experienced Rangana Herath, Mathews, spinner Sachithra Senanayake, and paceman Dushmantha Chameera all form part of what looks a well-rounded attack.
But, it’s the batting which seems short-changed. Dashing batsman Kusal Perera’s absence due to a doping-related suspension will be felt.
Tillakaratne Dilshan, until he scored 75 in the dead Asia Cup rubber against Pakistan, had only 86 from seven outings since the turn of the year.
Dinesh Chandimal is just showing signs of finally establishing himself in a format that looks tailor-made for him.
As Mathews remarked, it’s up to these players to discover the “seniors” in them if they are to carry a set replete with hitherto unproven talent in Niroshan Dickwella, Shehan Jayasuriya, Milinda Siriwardana, Dasun Shanaka, and Jeffrey Vandersay. (The Hindu)