As Sri Lanka completed a successful 3-0 home series win after 44 months against Bangladesh, the post-World Cup era has commenced with plenty of positives.
The manner in which Sri Lanka outplayed Bangladesh was surprisingly brilliant since the visitors have been playing a very good brand of cricket in recent times. One may think that Sri Lanka beat a depleted Bangladesh lineup, which was without a couple of important players, but, Sri Lanka played to their strengths, did their basics right and completed the job with little to no fuss.
As Sri Lanka bid adieu to two of their most loyal servants in ODI cricket – Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, the next generation showed plenty of promise to take the game forward, thus this win presents the perfect platform to build for the future. More importantly, the fringe players made a strong claim to cement their spots in the team.
Dimuth Karunaratne as a captain has ticked almost all boxes. Under him, Sri Lanka has won seven ODIs, lost four and had three no results. Sri Lanka has finally found an able skipper at least in ODIs and Tests for the next couple of years, who’s yearning for success. However, Karunaratne needs to make his bat talk consistently. Since being appointed captain, he has scored nearly 400 runs at 39.60 compared to his overall average of 26.63.
He has made three fifties in 11 matches but must look to convert his 30s and 40s into big knocks. Karunaratne’s main job would be to ease the pressure off the two aggressive batsmen at the top of the order, Kusal Perera and Avishka Ferando. What stood out in this series was the fact that Sri Lanka’s batting unit showcased their ability to build partnerships and perform to potential.
Angelo Mathews is no longer the young, athletic all-rounder or the flashy finisher. He will be the anchor in the middle order. He will grind hard for runs. But, if he’s successful, Sri Lanka can accommodate youngsters around him. Mathews’ hundred against India in Leeds has given him plenty of confidence. He transformed that form into becoming the series’ highest-run scorer, making 187 runs in 3 innings to win the Man of the Series award.
In the first ODI, he walked out after Kusal Perera fell for 111 in the 33rd over. Mathews held the lower middle-order, scoring 48 off 52 balls to put Sri Lanka’s total beyond 300. In the second game, Mathews walked out with nearly 100 runs to get on a turning track with more than 25 overs to go. He played out Bangladesh’s spinners well and finished off attacking the lackluster seamers to remain unbeaten with a fifty.
In the third and final game, at 98 for 3, Mathews had to dig deep and ensure Sri Lanka finished with a reasonable score to complete a whitewash. His 90-ball 87, probably his best knock of the series, paved the way for the rest of the batsmen – Kusal Mendis, Dasun Shanaka and Shehan Jayasuriya – to express themselves.
32-year-old Mathews has shown intent in hanging on until the next World Cup in 2023. He looks fitter now, something that has led to him making more runs. If he can get back into full fitness and roll his arm over a bit, Sri Lanka can balance their team perfectly, allowing more options in the team as they look to become a successful ODI side in the next four years.
With Malinga retiring in what was a perfect farewell game, Sri Lanka must now find wicket-taking, penetrative bowlers. Nuwan Pradeep, captured five wickets in two games against Bangladesh. If he can stay injury-free, Pradeep should be an automatic selection for ODIs. Lahiru Kumara is a man to watch out for. He has plenty of pace to trouble the batsmen. Against Bangladesh, young Kumara, who is also the fastest in the country, showed that he can bowl at good lines and lengths on a consistent basis.
With the return of Akila Dananjaya to the fold, Sri Lanka has a bowler to go to in the middle overs. He must concentrate on his stock ball, which is the off-spinner, while keeping the leg-spin and the googly to surprise the batsmen. Dhananjaya De Silva and Shehan Jayasuriya will fight for one place in the middle order, with both being able to bat and bowl off-spin. If Sri Lanka to succeed in limited-overs cricket, proper wicket-taking spinners must be groomed.
“If there’s a lot of competition and there’s a strong bench, if a player is injured, I can easily bring another player,” Karunaratne said at the conclusion of the series. “I think this is the way we have to build a good line-up. This is the time we have to bring some youngsters for the next couple of years. We’ve had an issue recently where we didn’t have that strong bench. But players are now ready, and they’ll grab the chances that come their way.”
This series win is just the fresh beginning Sri Lanka wanted. But now it’s necessary for Sri Lanka to be consistent and win series’ regularly. Having a core set of players is a necessity as well as a strong 20-25 member squad. In the last World Cup cycle, Sri Lanka had the most number of ODI players, they should aim at not repeating the same mistake. They must also not be satisfied with only a couple of wins but drive towards being the best in the business and start planning for the next World Cup.