Wednesday, 11 February 2015 01:02
By Renuke Wijayawardhane
A sub-continent team has either become the champion or the runner-up in every cricket World Cup staged from 1983 up to now, barring 1987. Many believe that this would change in 2015.
Sri Lanka has been remarkably consistent in the ICC World Cup tournaments. They are the Germany of the cricket World Cup. They are always there or there about. So, what are Sri Lanka’s chances in the 2015 World Cup?
To begin with, they are not among the favourites to win the World Cup. What makes it different this time? Mainly, the conditions do not appear to favour Sri Lanka in 2015. In Australia the pitches are generally hard and bouncy. You need strong lads who could bowl really fast on these surfaces; genuine pace bowlers like Mitchell Johnson who could extract pace off these pitches. Sri Lanka does not have this kind of bowlers. They are world-beaters on slow, turning pitches and their batsmen generally thrive on flat surfaces. But in these fast, bouncy conditions they have a tendency to struggle.
But, there is hope.
The world cup is played at the end of the summer in Australia and New Zealand. Contrary to the common belief, the conditions in Australia may change a bit by March when the wickets get worn out, resulting in slower pitches. This would benefit the Sri Lankan spin attack which has the best record amongst all the countries outside Asia since 2013.
New Zealand wickets offer swing and seam movement. Nuwan Kulasekera, Angelo Mathews and even Thisara Perera could come in handy in these conditions. In fact Sri Lanka consistently troubled the New Zealand top order in the recently concluded ODI series. Where Sri Lanka failed was in mopping up New Zealand’s lower order. The last five wickets added a lot of runs for New Zealand at crucial times and it was one of the reasons for Sri Lanka’s series loss. Having Lasith Malinga back would certainly boost Sri Lanka’s chances in that regard.
Sri Lanka is drawn in Pool ‘A’ together with three established test-playing nations (Australia, New Zealand and England) and three ‘minnows’ (Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland.)Sri Lanka must win a minimum of four matches at the league stage to reach the quarter-finals. To achieve this, Sri Lanka must win against the three ‘minnows’. They must also win at least one game against one of the three established sides. It is unlikely that Sri Lanka would lose all three matches against them.
At the league stage Sri Lanka will play an important game against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) where they have a better record against the hosts since 2003. Nowadays, the Aussies seem to prefer batting first, put up a sizable score and then restrict the opposition. If Sri Lanka could post a good 280+ batting first, who knows, they may well put the Aussies under pressure.
Sri Lanka plays two important league matches against New Zealand and England at Christchurch and Wellington respectively, and their familiarity with the local conditions after the recent series against New Zealand would be an advantage to some extent.
The format of the tournament is such that, save for a series of upsets by the minnows (in both Pools), it is almost a given that the eight top test-playing teams would reach the quarter finals. Sri Lanka will, in all probability, meet one of its sub-continent counterparts (India or Pakistan) from Pool ‘B’, again at the SCG. This is due to the ICC rule that, being the next top-ranked team in Pool ‘A’ after Australia and England, Sri Lanka will play their quarter final game at the SCG on 18th March, irrespective of its position within the top four in Pool ‘A’.
The real excitement would begin from the quarter final stage, or ‘business end’ of the World Cup, from which point onwards it is going to be anybody’s game. A team can be very consistent at the league stage, but as South Africa found out twice in 1996 and 2011, it only takes one bad game to crash out of the tournament. South Africans were streets ahead of the pack at the league stage both in 1996 and 2011, but lost to West Indies and New Zealand respectively in the quarter finals.
At the ‘business end’, a side needs three good games to become the champions. If Sri Lanka wins the quarter final and happen to meet Australia in the semi-final, that game would also be played at the SCG.
In Australian grounds with large outfields, it is not possible to pile up massive 300+ scores most of the time. In fact, a good 280+can be a match-winning score at SCG and MCG. To do this, it is imperative that our senior top order batsmen put up long partnerships. On any given day, one of the three most experienced batsmen in the side – Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillekeratne Dilshan – should bat until the very end. This should continue even in New Zealand where the grounds are relatively smaller. In several games against New Zealand, Sri Lanka finished poorly after being well set, once these three batsmen were back in the pavilion. Sri Lanka rarely notch up big 300+ scores when they lose too many wickets upfront.
This is the first World Cup played after the introduction of the new rules restricting the number of fielders that can be placed outside the 30 yard circle. Lasith Malinga must contain the run flow during the power plays and the death overs, and hopefully strike crucial blows. With two balls being used at each end – also for the first time in the World Cup – it would be suicidal to play only three specialist bowlers and expect the all-rounders to cover up the balance overs. Sri Lanka must play four specialist bowlers, at all times.
On paper, there are three favourites in this World Cup. Australia, on the strength of their power-packed batting line up and the potent pace attack, coupled with the home advantage, appear to be the hot favourite. With a dazzling batting line up which includes the best batsman in the world right now – A B de Villiers – and a pace attack that includes the best bowler in the world – Dale Steyn, South Africa are the next favourite. New Zealand has been the perennial ‘dark horse’, but they can drop that tag this time around. They are a well-knit unit with an impressive record during the past year and would be the other favourite.
But in a World Cup it is the team that can sustain the hunger and the high intensity throughout the entire tournament that could ultimately emerge as the champion. South Africa goes into almost every World Cup as one of the favourites, play sublime cricket initially, only to ‘choke’ in a crunch situation spectacularly. New Zealand has made it to the semi-finals more than any other side except Australia, but never reached the final even once.
Going by that theory, other than Australia, there are only two sides which are capable of doing this, in my view.
One is India. They have been in Australia for the past two months but haven’t won a single game to date. Their bowling attack is probably the worst among the established teams, and their batting, which has been their eternal strength, has been topsy-turvy recently.
The other side is Sri Lanka. They are the most experienced team in this World Cup and their bowling still has variety. More importantly, this World Cup will be the final hurrah for two of the modern day greats playing for the side, and it is a huge motivating factor for the entire team to do well. In spite of all this Sri Lanka may still run out of steam, like in 2003. They may even fall in an embarrassing heap, like in 1999. On the converse, if everything falls nicely in place, they could also make everyone else in the tournament look like amateurs; like in 1996.
And, if that happens in 2015, it should qualify as an upset.