There’s exactly one month left for another important election in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. All the attention – domestic and international, will be on the particular election result on the 17th of November, which can be decisive, at least for the next five years.
Despite all the differences amongst the general public in this country related to politics, when it comes to cricket, they do not take any sides, because it is probably the only thing which unites everyone as a nation.
The three T20 Internationals against the Australians, one of Sri Lanka’s toughest opponents in history, will be one rare instance in the coming month which will see the country as one, applauding a group of individuals.
If not for a young, inexperienced Sri Lankan team, who have aroused the country’s love for the game, whitewashing the world number one ranked T20 team, Pakistan, this series wouldn’t have been of much interest and hope, especially during these crucial political times.
Nothing can be taken away from that win in Pakistan, which can be termed amongst the top three highlights in Sri Lanka’s T20I journey since the World T20 triumph in 2014.
Yet, they must not be sated with how they performed in Pakistan. As they look to build on for the next year’s showpiece event in the shortest format, the islanders must continue to have that hunger to be world-beaters and a solid T20 outfit.
Sri Lanka Cricket must focus on consistency, which has been lacking for so long in all three formats. Usually, out of nowhere, Sri Lanka records a stunning win or two and then they get complacent, which leads to a string of disappointing losses.
It’s not the opponent Sri Lanka play, it’s not the captain who leads them, it’s all about playing to their true potential, a trait that has brought many victories to the island even without major superstars.
With not many ODI assignments left in the coming 12 months, the white-ball focus for Sri Lanka will be on the T20Is with around 15-20 matches scheduled before the seventh edition of ICC T20 World Cup, which kicks off in October 2020.
In the next 24 months, there will be two ICC T20 World Cups – in 2020 (Australia) and 2021 (India) – so special attention is needed for the game which only lasts three and a half hours.
Lasith Malinga the bowler is everyone’s hero with a supreme record of 104 wickets in 76 matches. Lasith Malinga the captain is not everyone’s cup of tea, as he’s led the team in losses in six out of seven T20Is this year.
With Dasun Shanaka showcasing exemplary leadership qualities in Pakistan, Malinga is sure to be looking over his shoulder as he intends to be captaining the team when they return down under during next year’s summer. If the selectors are to persist with Malinga as Captain, he will have to bring the W’s in the next 8-10 months since the fans are clamoring for a youth leadership.
Healthy competition starting with the captaincy will augur well for national cricket. Plenty of in-form fringe batsmen such as Danushka Gunathilaka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Oshada Fernando – the three main contributors with the bat during their win in Pakistan should be retained in the playing XI as they take the field on the 27th in Adelaide.
But to do so, at least one of the more established players in Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera and Niroshan Dickwella, who are back in the national mix, will have to sit out. Mind you, the likes of Avishka Fernando and Shehan Jayasuriya are also in the fray. Shanaka, the batsman has to be Sri Lanka’s number one to do the finisher’s role. His maturity with the bat over the past few months has been tremendous.
Will Asantha De Mel and Lasith Malinga take some tough calls in Australia for the betterment of Sri Lanka’s T20 plans? One or two hard decisions may not be fruitful at the onset but will certainly prove to be vital in the longer run.
Predicting the starting XI for the first T20I will be tough. However, the practice match against the Prime Minister’s XI on the 24th should give us some idea on what sort of combination the islanders will test. But, one failure in a warm-up match shouldn’t be taken as a cause to leave out the in-form players.
The find of the Pakistan tour and the most improved cricketer this year, Wanindu Hasaranga will have a huge task at hand, which is to stop David Warner, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith and Alex Carey from dominating the middle overs.
He’s not afraid to toss it up and invite the batsman to make a mistake. In doing so, he’s bound to go for runs but the biggest advantage of having him as an attacking option, just like all wrist-spinners, is that they will give you wickets.
Lakshan Sandakan is not the perfect second choice wrist spinner, but when he’s bowling with utmost confidence and doesn’t get his body stiff in his delivery stride, not many in the world will be comfortable facing him.
With Akila Dananjaya, by far Sri Lanka’s best spinner in limited-overs cricket over the past few years, suspended from bowling due to an illegal action, there was a sense of uncertainty before the Pakistan tour on who will take the mantle forward as the lead-spinner.
Hasaranga is still raw but the way he has risen to the occasion with his all-round skills in the last six T20Is (he’s taken 12 wickets in that period), Sri Lanka may well have found another wicket-taking option for the next few years.
Kasun Rajitha, Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Kumara and Isuru Udana will fight for two places to partner Malinga. All four of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, Sri Lanka’s seam attack is hugely underrated and can win you games.
The upcoming two T20I series’ – Australia (October/November 2019) and India (January 2020) will be crucial for Sri Lanka in their bid to be a force at the World Cup next year. But as cricket-loving general public, don’t lose faith and hope even if they lose both the series or worse, get whitewashed.
As Sri Lanka have shown during 2019, they are more than capable of producing the goods when it really matters and the two series to come will be the prime opportunity to do just that.