SLC President Thilanga Sumathipala, Bangladesh Captain M. D. Mahmudullah, Sri Lanka Captain Dinesh Chandimal and India Captain Rohit Sharma unveiling the Nidahas Trophy 2018 - pic by Sameera Wijesinghe
By Madushka Balasuriya
With India resting a host of big-name players and Bangladesh still reeling from their recent home series defeat, Sri Lanka begin the Nidahas Trophy as unlikely favourites.
Their first challenge however will still be a stern one, despite it being against an Indian side without the likes of Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Kuldeep Yadav.
“If you go by the ratings, India is the no. 1 team, so they always start ahead of the other teams. Whoever comes for India is a very strong team,” warned Sri Lanka head coach Chandika Hathurusingha yesterday. “We can’t control their selection. We are playing the Indian team, so whoever they play on that day we prepare for them. If the stars are there it’s good for the spectators, but unfortunately at this stage they’ve come with a different team. It doesn’t mean that we are favourites.”
The Lankan coach was speaking to the media following his team’s training session on the eve of the opening game. Ahead of arguably their most challenging match of the Hathurusingha era the players were in good spirits, however the head coach stressed the importance of starting the tournament well so as to build on the momentum and goodwill earned through their success in Bangladesh.
“[Victory in Bangladesh has] definitely given us confidence to repeat what we did. The players probably understand their roles much better than they used to before. As long as they try to play to their potential, we’ll be competitive,” Hathurusingha said. “The key is we have to start well because we haven’t been doing well at home. The Bangladesh series is in the past. Whether we bat or bowl, I reiterate we need to start well. That is what will help us to get the momentum in the tournament.”
Key to the team’s hopes will be the form of Kusal Mendis, who has been a revelation at the top of the order despite not initially being in the selectors’ T20 plans. Having been drafted into the side following an injury to his namesake Kusal Perera, Mendis took his chance with both hands blitzing knocks of 53 and 70 in the T20s against Bangladesh while continuing his good form over the past week in the domestic Major T20 tournament hitting 21, 71, and 64.
“His mentality is really good these days. He knows his game and understands himself better,” explained Hathurusingha on the reason behind Mendis’ purple patch. “Our coaches have worked very closely with him, and explained those things to him. He has clarity about what he does now. I think it’s the mental stat that’s the biggest factor in him regaining his form.”
With the return of Kusal Perera to the fold, it remains to be seen whether Mendis will continue in his role as opener. In recent times Danushka Gunathilaka has played the steady hand while Mendis, and prior to him Perera, have been the aggressors. As to whether Sri Lanka may unleash both attackers at the same time, Hathurusingha was playing his cards close to his chest. “We will open with whoever we feel will play the best. We’ll also look at the other teams’ strengths and limitations before coming to that decision.”
Sri Lanka face India at 7pm this evening at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
What the Captains had to say
Sri Lanka Captain Dinesh Chandimal
“We all know India and Bangladesh have played really good cricket in the last couple of years, so it will be a challenge for us. But we have been doing all the hard work to improve day by day, and the boys are looking forward to some competitive cricket in this tournament. And we are also really looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd which is always special.”
“I remember I was only 10 years old when the Nidahas Trophy took place for the first time, so it gives me immense happiness to be part of the 20 years later, especially as Indian captain. I’m looking forward to a great tournament, there are three wonderful teams playing and I’m sure we will see some good cricket over the next 10-12 days.”
Bangladesh Captain Mahmudullah
“I think it’s a good platform for us to make a statement. We’ve been playing very good cricket in the last few years and it’s a great opportunity for our team, and every individual in our team to make a statement. Also we need to take responsibility and perform really well for our country, and hopefully we’ll put on a good show and play some hard cricket.”