Bittersweet Asia Cup for Sri Lanka

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The Asia Cup finals at RPS Sunday night was a bitter pill to swallow for local fans as India handed them a heavy defeat. Having bowled out Sri Lanka for 50 runs, they chased down the target in 37 balls to finish off the game inside two hours and 35,000 spectators were in for a huge disappointment.

Amidst many unwanted records, Sri Lanka ended up being shot out for their lowest total at home and the second lowest total in the history. From 12 for six, there was no way out for the home team as Mohammed Siraj created mayhem swinging the new ball through the air and off the pitch.

Barring the heavy loss in the finals, Sri Lanka competed well in the competition and did well to reach the finals. The organziers had expected an India-Pakistan final but like last time in UAE those hopes were dashed. An India-Pakistan final has never happened in the Asia Cup so far and it remains to be jinxed forever, quite surprising for the regional tournament that has seen 16 editions so far and in that period both India and Pakistan have gone onto become world champions.

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Sri Lanka fought hard to outclass Afghanistan and Pakistan and had the better of Bangladesh twice in the tournament. It’s against India they are finding hard to bridge the gap and most ODIs between these two teams in recent years have been lopsided. That’s why India head into the World Cup as firm favourites.

When Sri Lanka’s bowling attack was depleted with four bowlers injured, not many would have given the defending champions to go beyond the first round. But they bounced back well with young players like Dunith Wellalage and Matheesha Pathirana rising to the occasion.

Batting could have fared better but once again the efforts of young players like Sadeera Samarawickrama and Charith Asalanka stood out while Kusal Mendis batted like someone who has come of age. Consistency remains his problem.

All focus will now turn to the World Cup campaign which is three weeks away and there are several questions that are left to be answered. The foremost of them is whether Dasun Shanaka fits into the scheme of things.

The captain’s efforts with bat are so ordinary to say the least. This year Dasun started off with a century in Guwahati and since then it’s all downhill with a top score of 31 in 17 innings. Teams tend to bring spin on as soon as Dasun comes out to bat and he seems to have not got many options when faced with spin.

Dasun is a one gear batsman. The ideal scenario for him is to walk out to bat with five overs remaining and then throw the kitchen sink. When he walks out to bat with 15 overs remaining, he runs out of ideas and soon there’s a collapse as the tail is not equipped to face top class bowling.

Everyone seem to suggest that Dasun has to be left out of the World Cup campaign, but the question is who will take over from him? The better option for the selectors is to stick with Dasun until the World Cup is over hoping that he would come good on flat decks and then make a call once the tournament is over.

Dasun is a fine T-20 player but whether he belong to ODI cricket is a pertinent question. The selectors should have asked that question when they appointed him two years ago. He was handed the white ball captaincy amidst a contract crisis and there was an urgent need to get someone who would take the team forward rather than be at daggers drawn with the establishment. The question whether he could meet the demands of 50 over cricket were conveniently ignored then. Now that you have backed him as ODI skipper, he needs to see through the World Cup. But stranger things have happened in cricket.

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The other obvious question is of course opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne. He was dropped halfway through the Asia Cup and rightly so too for you can’t be leaving out someone like KJP.

The reason why Dimuth was drafted into the ODI squad was to bat through the innings. At least hang in there till the 40th over. While it is understandable that you can not do this day in and day out, Dimuth’s problem was that he was getting out trying to keep pace with the strike rate. Obviously it backfired. Being flashy is not Dimuth’s game.

The experiment started off well and paid dividends during the World Cup Qualifiers. During the Asia Cup it was a flop. It needs to be found out whether someone urged Dimuth to keep an eye on the strike rate. He would have been far better playing the anchor role.