Progress in Tests, drawbacks in ODIs and T-20s for Sri Lanka in 2019

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Another year is coming to an end and it is time to assess how the national cricket team fared in 2019. Given the disappointments of 2017 and 2018, another tough year was on the cards as 2019 dawned. At the end of the year, when you assess the performances, you will find that the team has done reasonably well in Test cricket while the returns in white ball cricket have been well below par. 

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In 2019, Sri Lanka played eight Test matches – six of them away from home. They did well to win three of the eighth Tests with the highlight being the Test series win in South Africa. 

The numbers suggest otherwise but in ODIs, they showed signs of improvement and more importantly identified new match winners. This year, Sri Lanka played 21 ODIs, won seven games and lost 14. The 3-0 defeat in New Zealand and the 6-0 drubbing in South Africa hurt their numbers. But in the World Cup year, they did well, holding their own in the sport’s showpiece event. The highlight being beating World Champions England in Headlingley. Perhaps they could have done better with a balanced side. Carrying too many untested players for the World Cup proved to be costly. 

Of the 13 T-20s they played, they lost eight games and won four while one game ended in a tie. The series clean sweep in Pakistan was the highlight of the year and Dasun Shanaka emerged as a fine leader. 

There was quite a murmur about the scheduling as the team had to be overseas for four months at a stretch without coming home. On the trot, they were touring New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. After the two Tests in Brisbane and Canberra, the team was to leave straight to South Africa. The fact that they had to play two Tests straight away without any warm-up games wasn’t the most pleasing thing in South Africa where their record is dismal. 

People can hardly come to terms with what happened in South Africa. The team took the long flight from Canberra to Johannesburg with their confidence shattered. The captain had been sacked and half of the players who were part of the Australian series were heading home. 

The newly appointed captain Dimuth Karunaratne had spent a night in the hospital after being hit on the head. Kusal Janith Perera had copped a few nasty ones as well. In that context, facing up the quartet of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Duanne Olivier was a mean task. 

But how well the batters responded to the challenge. Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha realized that he had little time and there was no point in making technical adjustments. Instead, he was keen to work on small things like the hand speed. That eventually did the trick as KJP cut and pulled in Durban on his way to a 153 not out to give Sri Lanka a thrilling one wicket win. That Durban win will go down in history as Sri Lanka’s greatest triumph in Test cricket. 

A series win in South Africa was out of the equation when the tourists landed in Johannesburg but they achieved the impossible to become only the third team after England and Australia to win a series in South Africa. The fact that only two other teams had won a series in South Africa before them itself shows that how tough it is for teams to compete in South Africa. 

While seasoned campaigners like Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva and Suranga Lakmal had an impact in the series win, some of the young players contributed immensely too. The young Oshada Fernando who was on his maiden tour was the most impressive and Lasith Embuldeniya too had his moments although he was forced to pull out due to injury. The other big contributor was Vishwa Fernando. He was in South Africa only because of injuries to several other fast bowlers. He bowled so well with the new ball and his contribution in that tensed last wicket partnership in Durban was invaluable. 

Dimuth Karunaratne was an impressive leader and he was able to get everyone to contribute. He still topped the run charts for the team in Tests but just one hundred in eight games in the year was not good enough by his standards. 

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A player to make an impact in shorter formats of the game this year was Avishka Fernando, who finished 2019 as the third highest run getter in ODIs behind KJP and Mendis. 

Bhanuka Rajapaksa had his moments in Pakistan and watching him bat alongside Avishka will be exciting as we move on. 

Isuru Udana topped the run charts in T-20 cricket and was equally impressive with the ball. 

The players who have been identified in 2019 have a big role to play in the new year particularly with the World T-20 to be played in Australia next year.