Ending weeks of speculations, the national selection panel announced a 15 member squad for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales. People may have had differences of opinion with regards to the selection, but to his credit, Chairman of Selectors Ashantha De Mel came out on top, arguing successfully why he selected each of the 15 players for cricket’s showpiece event.
His statement that Dhananjaya de Silva was more effective than Akila Dananjaya looked debatable at the start but he successfully proved himself, taking into account the strike rate of each bowler as a case in point.
Whatever the differences that people may have, now that the squad has been selected, all fans should fall behind the team in solidarity.
One costly mistake that Sri Lanka made for their title defence back in 1999 was to rely heavily on their spin bowling options. That proved to be disastrous as the team made a sorry first round exit, unable to qualify for the Super Sixes with just two wins under their belt.
The same mistake should not be repeated this time around. The squad chosen to play the World Cup has four spin options. Three of them all-rounders, plus specialist leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay. Maybe the selectors want to try out different spinning combinations against various oppositions. But you can be assured that at no point will Sri Lanka require two spinners in one game except for the match against South Africa in London.
Apart from the South Africa clash, none of Sri Lanka’s other games are in the south of England as they either play in Wales, Midlands or North. The second spinner will be of little use when they travel to these cricket centers.
Sri Lanka’s preparation ahead of the World Cup is enviable. The team literally will be together for six weeks prior to the World Cup starting from the team bonding session in Special Forces Camp at Madhuru Oya. Then they will be based in Dambulla for a week where they will conduct training sessions before leaving to England on May 7th.
The Sri Lankans will be in the United Kingdom three weeks before their opening fixture against New Zealand on 1st of June in Cardiff. During that time they will play two ODIs in Scotland in Edinburgh and two more warm-up games against South Africa and Australia in Wales and Southampton and that should hold them in good stead before they get to the business end of the tour.
In the last four World Cups, in South Africa (2003), West Indies (2007), Sub-Continent (2011) and Australia-New Zealand (2015), Sri Lanka have competed so well, going onto enter the finals on two occasions. This time though, there’s not much optimism, given the fact that the team is ranked so low.
Success in sports is like a cycle. There are good times and bad times. Sri Lanka’s downward trend is due to some of the high profile retirements in the last few years. The national cricket team was a thorn in many a flesh when the likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, T.M. Dilshan and Muttiah Muralitharan were at their peak. All teams go through these slumps but for countries that are established, the cycle of struggle is relatively shorter because they have players coming through the system.
There are various suggestions that are put forward to help players ply their trade in a competitive environment and the proposed Lankan Premier League tournament is expected to give the sport a shot in the arm.
Sri Lanka’s current ranking in ODI cricket has forced the people not to take serious note of the World Cup. But in an event like the World Cup, rankings hardly matter. The 2007 World Cup is a classic example. A year before the World Cup, India thrashed Tom Moody’s side 6-1 in a seven match series. Coincidentally, Sri Lanka and India were drawn in the same group for the World Cup and there was hardly any hope among fans. But not only did Sri Lanka beat India in their World Cup fixture but went onto reach the finals as well. India, meanwhile, made a horrible first round exit. So, early form counts for little in big tournaments.
The first two games in Cardiff against New Zealand and Afghanistan matter a lot. If they were able to get the points from those two games, they will enjoy their campaign much better.