Friday, 13 February 2015 00:06
The Sri Lankan World Cup teamBy Andrew Fidel Fernando
ESPNCricinfo: Sri Lanka sometimes go into global tournaments underdone. Other times they have carried misfiring personnel. Occasionally key players have been injured, or, like on this occasion, poor form has pockmarked their approach to the big events. They rarely seem to have the firepower of the ‘favourites’. They are so beset by poor governance they played the last World T20 in the middle of a contracts dispute. But they won.
Sri Lanka are like the kung fu movie protagonist that takes a hundred knocks to the head, but somehow makes it to the end of the film. Or the old Nokia phone that is jammed in doors and dropped in puddles, but continues to live on.
Angelo Mathews has three former captains in his side. He has already been at the helm for two standoffs with the board. But in the six major campaigns he has played in, Sri Lanka have failed to reach the semi-finals only once.
It is not that Sri Lanka have consistently been the best side in these tournaments - often their early outings have been scratchy. But somewhere in each campaign metal strikes flint and a fire spreads. In the 2007 World Cup, Lasith Malinga had his four in four. In the 2009 World T20, the team rallied around Tillakaratne Dilshan’s electric starts. In the 2014 World T20, Rangana Herath turned a match Sri Lanka had no business winning, with his 5 for 3.
If the four previous finals had not already put the cricket world on notice, actually winning the last big tournament has. They lost 2-4 to New Zealand in January, but if Malinga is fit and firing, Sri Lanka will be hopeful that big-tournament magic will catch them again.
The batting is still top-heavy, but it is some top. Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara have been mighty consistent in ODIs over the past two years, and in Mahela Jayawardene Sri Lanka have one of the best big-match players in the game. They are smuggling inexperience in that lower middle order, but Mathews has become adept at rescuing the innings, though he has been short of support in recent weeks.
Sri Lanka’s fans have watched too many finals to be wowed by just another good dash to the knockout stages. They expect the team to return with the trophy. The cricketers themselves will be desperate to bag the big prize too, not least because this will be several senior players’ last chance to do so.
World Cup Pedigree
They have not won since 1996, but aside from the awful 1999 campaign, Sri Lanka teams have largely emerged from World Cups with credit, reaching the semi-finals in 2003 and the final in both World Cups since. The near-miss in 2011 was for many in the team the greatest disappointment in their limited-overs careers, and only a World Cup win could bring full catharsis.
Sri Lanka have recently found limited overs success by stacking the XI with allrounders - particularly of the fast-bowling variety - and they built a team purposefully, to ensure Mathews will not be short of bowling options even when Sri Lanka play an XI that bats deep. Mathews himself as well as Thisara Perara and Nuwan Kulasekara have had success with both disciplines in Australia, and there is Dilshan’s canny offspin to break a big partnership or apply a squeeze. The challenge for Mathews is managing these resources intelligently, and ensuring he plays enough frontline bowlers in his XI.
Sri Lanka have developed a reputation as a street-smart unit with a taste for aggression, and that is the approach that has historically brought them most success. With two new balls in play, starts may not be as brisk as usual, but their batting is capable of responding to most situations, thanks to the adaptability that the likes of Sangakkara, Dilshan, Jayawardene and Mathews provide.