After the disappointment of the Test series, Sri Lanka now move onto the ODI leg of the tour of New Zealand with so much at stake. If they pull off a 3-0 win, they need not worry about playing the qualifying round of this year’s World Cup.
Whitewashing Kiwis in their own backyard is wishful thinking for a team that failed to beat Afghanistan at home not so long ago. So, they better bite the bullet, accept the reality and be prepared to play the qualifiers. More importantly the team needs to have a blueprint that allows them to cruise along in qualifiers rather than experimenting.
Sri Lanka’s ODI strategies need to be re-examined. A closer look at what they have been doing will tell you that they are very much flawed.
Like England in 1990s and 2000s they have depended too much on all-rounders. The term all-rounder is loosely used these days. Ian Botham was an all-rounder and so was Jacques Kallis while every captain would be hoping that he had a Sanath Jayasuriya in his side.
Sri Lanka’s habit of packing the side with too many all-rounders took to a new level during their last ODI series – tour to India, where they were thrashed 3-0 that included a 317 run defeat in Trivandrum, the worst ever defeat in the history of ODI cricket.
Dasun Shanaka’s side played as many as five all-rounders at one point. Shanaka was occupying the number five slot followed by Wanindu Hasaranga at six. It may have been one off, but both batters are finishers and should go down to number seven and eight allowing the top six to be proper batsmen.
In your top six you can accommodate an all-rounder in Dhananjaya de Silva, that’s ideal as he’s proved to be a crafty customer with his off-spin. Then you have Shanaka and Wanindu and that’s all the all-rounders you need. That means there’s no place for Chamika Karunaratne or Dunith Wellalage. Sri Lanka played all five all-rounders in India and it was recipe for disaster. With all due respect to Wellalage, he’s a fine find and will do a tremendous job for the team moving forward. This World Cup though is not his time. He needs to improve his batting and should be able to bat at six if he’s to be considered. He’s got a long career ahead and let him develop his game first.
Part of the problem is because Shanaka doesn’t bowl sufficiently and at times doesn’t bring himself on at all. It’s an age old problem going back to the days of Arjuna Ranatunga. A succession of Sri Lankan skippers since then have under bowled themselves. But the problem then was there were other bowling options in the top seven. Sanath Jayasuriya could call up Aravinda de Silva or Russel Arnold to send down a few overs. Arjuna had more options than Sanath as captain, a luxury that Shanaka doesn’t have.
Although we’ve spoken heavily on bowling, honestly it’s not the bowlers who have let down the team. There’s been the occasional game where a flat deck or an inspirational batting performance has made bowling look ordinary. But bowling is one department that has shown definite improvement and emergence of young players like Dilshsn Madushanka augurs well moving forward.
The real problem for the team has been batting, often bowled out unable to bat out 50 overs. The youth policy that was launched two years ago benching half a dozen seniors could have been done with less aggression or re-examined after an year or so.
You find Angelo Mathews returning to the ODI fold after more than two years and you get the feeling the team would have been better off utilizing his experience and expertise much earlier. Better late than never though.
With Mathews in the middle order, it allows others to bat with lot more freedom, especially the ones who are supposed to do the finishing role. It will be interesting to see how Sri Lanka will handle the batting order. They’ll be tempted to use Mathews at number four giving him ample batting time to build an innings. Or, they can move someone like Charith Asalanka to four where he’ll feel less pressure. There hasn’t been a more promising Sri Lankan cricketer than the former Richmondite.
Batting alongside Mathews will be a good learning experience for Charith. If not five, Mathews is quite capable to move to number six from where he’s been involved in so many rescue missions over the years. That’s the flexibility he brings to the batting.
With enough ODIs under their belt much is expected from Asalanka and Pathum Nissanka as well. As for the future mainstay of batting Kusal Mendis, he’ll be better of concentrating batting alone and keeping gloves can go to someone like Sadeera Samarawickrama.