High hopes as Sri Lanka prepare for World Cup campaign

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Sri Lanka’s cricketers will travel to Kandy on Saturday to begin a five day residential camp at Pallekele where they will fine tune skills and work on game situations before returning to Colombo for a two day break and then head to Melbourne on the 2nd of October to begin their campaign of the ICC T-20 World Cup.

Sri Lanka will become the first team to land in Australia for the mega event. The former champions play their first warm-up game against Zimbabwe on the 10th October at Australia’s sporting capital, the iconic MCG.

Sri Lanka Cricket should be commended for sending the team a week early to Australia to get acclimatized to the conditions. The team no doubt has got momentum behind them following their stunning Asia Cup triumph, but conditions in Australia will be entirely different and teams need more time to adjust to these conditions.

Pitches with pace and bounce and longer boundaries pose different challenges for teams, particularly the ones that are touring from the sub-continent and that’s one reason why India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have not got a great record down under.

Sri Lanka’s second warm-up game will be at the Junction Oval in Melbourne, a 15 minute drive from the MCG. Junction Oval is where Cricket Victoria is located and the home ground of St. Kilda where a certain Shane Keith Warne played his cricket in the early days.

Sri Lanka will remain in Victoria throughout their qualifying round games moving from Melbourne to Geelong where they will play all three games against Namibia, UAE and Netherlands.

There’s some murmurs about the team playing qualifying round games in major ICC events but this can only be a blessing in disguise like it proved last time. More than in UAE, playing these additional games in Australia will be vital for a young team to get a feel of things.

If Sri Lanka top Group ‘A’, their opponents will be Australia, New Zealand, England, Afghanistan and the runner-up from Group ‘B’ (West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland or Scotland). The second round will see Sri Lanka travelling all around Australia from Hobart, Brisbane, Perth to Sydney.

Selecting the World Cup squad would have been a nightmare for the selectors as they had to leave out some deserving players like Asitha Fernando. One may argue that if not for the seamer, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have even progressed beyond the first round of the Asia Cup albeit thanks to his batting.

In the end, however, you’ve got to admit that the right call has been made. It’s true that Asitha may provide variety for the team, but in Australia pace does the job more than seam and it’s a matter of horses for courses.

Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera are returning from injuries and particularly the latter will be a crucial cog in the wheel having had a terrific 24 months that even earned him an IPL deal.

Kumara though is a worry as he hasn’t played since March this year having limped off the field at Mohali during the first Test match against India. His pace and aggression earned him plaudits from former great Dale Steyn last year although he did bowl some costly overs during the World Cup in UAE.

A lot of people wonder why Sri Lanka should take a second leggie when you already have a champion bowler like Wanindu Hasaranga. The thinking may be that the larger grounds in Australia make things difficult for batters to clear the boundary and a second wrist spinner could come in handy. It remains to be seen how this ploy works. Jeffrey Vandersay has shown some improvement during recent white ball contests.

It’s a shame that both Avishka Fernando and Kusal Perera are still recovering after undergoing surgeries. Both batters would have added much value to the side but the team needs to move on.

An area where the side has shown definite improvement is fielding. Sloppy fielding had cost the team many games in recent times and this was an area where a lot of emphasis has been placed to revive the fortunes of the team and Sri Lanka were the best fielding unit in the Asia Cup.

It’s been a tough few years for the national cricket team. Time was when Sri Lanka earned huge respect at ICC events from 2007 to 2014 having regularly reached the top four and going onto play the finals several times. In recent times, however, the team had struggled to earn automatic qualification in major ICC events and you get the feeling that under Dasun Shanaka the team has turned around their fortunes. At one point it looked as if Sri Lanka were going to suffer the same fate as the West Indies. However, a bold youth policy, more emphasis on fitness and discipline has seen the national cricket team going onto become a force in world cricket again. This team is not the finished product though, but now that there are some exciting young talents, the glory days are ahead of the national cricket team. A semi-final slot in Australia could bring joy to the nation’s die-hard fans.