Matheesha gives us new hopes


Rex Clementine at Pallekele  

There were fears of Sri Lanka maybe not progressing beyond the first round of the Asia Cup after their entire bowling unit was depleted lead up to the six nation tournament. How well the backup players rose to the occasion in their opening encounter against Bangladesh this week to fire Sri Lanka to a comprehensive win. With that they are almost certain of a second round slot unless they lose badly to Afghanistan.  

When Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, Dilshan Madushanka and Dushmantha Chameera went down one after the other, there were worries that this is going to be a real test. But the team has been able to settle those fears. Tougher tests will come later in the tournament against India and Pakistan   

It was Maheesh Theekshana, who set up the game with an early wicket and Bangladesh batters struggled to pick him throughout the innings.  

Pathirana then delivered some big blows.  He removed Shakib-al-Hasan in his first spell before claiming the other big wicket of Mushfiqur Rahim in his second spell and came back for a final spell to knock off Bangladesh’s tail.  

It was a gamble to play Pathirana ahead of Binura Fernando or Pramod Madushan. Pathirana has always had pace, but his control has been a concern and he put those doubts to rest with a fine effort.  

Things would have looked pretty awful for Bangladesh if Dasun Shanaka had held onto a catch from Najmul Shanto, who went onto top score with 89 runs. Despite batting through the innings, Shanto never looked convincing against Theekshana and eventually fell for him.  

Kasun Rajitha bowled really well and was unlucky to finish without any wickets to his name with a catch being dropped off his bowling. Dhananjaya de Silva is a very underrated bowler and you are assured of ten overs of his off-spin more often than not.  

Once the injured four return to the side the bowling looks quite formidable and they will be excited to watch during the World Cup. Not many are giving Sri Lanka a chance in the sport’s showpiece event later this year. But with conditions to their liking, they do have an outside chance to make it to the last four. 

Quite regularly Sri Lanka now are bowling sides out inside the 50 overs and that’s proof for their bowling strength.  

Batting has been a concern for the team with the main problem being not able to utilize the 50 overs. Asia Cup provides them with an opportunity to address that issue. 

When three early wickets fell during the modest run chase, it appeared that old problems had resurfaced in what was a tricky wicket. But how well Charith Asalanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama knocked off the target.  

Sadeera was given an early break in his career in 2017 but once Graham Labrooy’s term ended as chairman of selectors, Sadeera was thrown to the cold and rarely received a consistent run. Players with his kind of attitude and focus need to be given the longer rope to cement their place in the side.  

Sadeera should have finished off the run chase but threw it away when set. That’s one flaw in his game as he fails to convert starts. Hopefully, he will go onto have a long career now that he features in the red ball format as well.  

As for Asalanka, he was under pressure after a poor LPL. But when it mattered, he delivered top scoring with 62 runs. The maturity that Asalanka shows particularly when chasing down targets is one bright aspect moving forward.  

Once Kusal Perera is fit to go, the batting looks stable. Who should go out from the side is the question. It is obvious that Kusal Mendis hasn’t delivered and one option that the selectors can think of is to give the wicketkeeping gloves to Sadeera and get Kusal Perera to bat at number three.  

A player that Sri Lanka are missing is Avishka Fernando. Earmarked from the early days, Fernando hasn’t come up with match winnings efforts to the selectors’ liking, but he is someone who can change a game on its head and should get more opportunities.  

Despite the troubles, the Asia Cup in our own conditions provides us an opportunity to test our strengths and identify grey areas. Fielding is one aspect that the team needs to focus heavily on. 

Not so long-ago Pakistan’s fielding was so awful but with genuine effort they have now emerged as the region’s best fielding unit. Sri Lanka will do well to borrow a leaf out of Pakistan’s book. You notice that every game they tend to put down a catch and a costly drop of Rohit Sharma or Babar Azam is going to hurt them dearly.  

Sri Lanka aren’t the fancied outfit to make to the finals of the Asia Cup. But they can give a close run for both India and Pakistan and remind everyone that they will be a force to be reckoned with during the World Cup.