The last few years have been quite a time for Sri Lanka. As far as limited over matches are concerned, there’s a sense in Sri Lanka that we are finally on the right track to achieving the type of consistency that is appropriate for the calibre of players that we have. Our performances were good, but not world-beating, under Marvan Atapattu. Mahela Jayawardena brought about a sense of ruthlessness, but his poor batting form in the last 1-2 years of his captaincy ensured that the ODI team was lacking direction.
I was very skeptical of how well Kumar Sangakkara would fare as a captain, largely because I felt that he was of the “wedi katha, adu weda” type (translates to “more talk, less work” from Sinhala to English). However, he has proven me wrong on all fronts, as he has been one of our best batsmen since he took over and, for once, I actually look up to him to make a big score for us. He’s led with aggression when required (who can ever forget the 93 that he made against India in Rajkot in late 2009, which, IMHO, was better than Dilshan’s 163) and can bat with caution when required (I feel the instances are countless to specifically mention one). He has actually become the cornerstone of our batting.
The squad was pretty much on expected lines, although I was hoping against hope that Chaminda Vaas would get picked, considering how well he played in the last IPL and the way he performed as an all-rounder in the English T20 competition last year. However, the selection of the 2 Chamaras, Kapugedera and Silva, as well as that of Ajantha Mendis are what have irked many people in Sri Lanka, but some selections tend to be too baffling that it numbs fans into just praying that the team as a whole performs well.
The openers have a settled look about themselves, Dilshan knowing his role as the aggressor and Tharanga knowing his role as the not-too-aggressive opener. This opening partnership conjures images of the very successful former opening combo of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, though, to be fair to Tharanga, Atapattu didn’t really score as fast as Tharanga does.
The performance of the middle order is what I feel will decide how far we go in the World Cup. In Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, we have 2 experienced veterans who can both attack and accumulate as and when the need arises. If any bowling attack can get them out cheaply, then the onus will be on Thilan Samaraweera to bail the team out.
Samaraweera, in my opnion, is one of the most underrated players in Sri Lankan cricket. Ever since Russell Arnold retired (after the 2007 World Cup), Sri Lanka has struggled to find a player who can steady the ship and rotate the strike and ensure that not too many wickets are lost in the last 10 overs. Thilan has the capability to do that, but has not been trusted too much by the team management. Due to the insecurity about his position in the side, he is often caught in two minds, whether to attack or to accumulate. I hope that Sangakkara defines his role clearly as the innings-builder so that he can play an extremely useful part in our campaign.
Angelo Mathews is another player who will play a vital role in the team. In addition to his medium pace bowling, which is perfect for sub-continental conditions, his batting will complement Thilan in being an innings-builder. However, I hope he would bat a little more consistently so that he can play a role as a genuine no.6 batsman.
Thissara Perera is the “boy with the golden arm”, the guy whose bowling seems unthreatening but somehow gets wickets! His big hitting is also something to look out for, though additional consistency would greatly help.
Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara complement each other, as one attacks with his pace and swing, while the other attacks with good old-fashioned accurate bowling. Dilhara, as the reserve pace bowler, will bring a lot to the table if he plays in any matches, with his canny changes of pace as well as his genuinely fast bowling. Murali will want to shine in his last World Cup, so don’t be surprised to see an extra spring in his step. This might be the only World Cup Rangana Herath plays in, so expect him to come in with his big bag of tricks. He is one of the most underestimated spinners in Sri Lanka cricket, but always does justice to his talent when selected (he even performed much better than Murali during the tour to India in late-2009).
Sangakkara seems to favour Ajantha Mendis a lot, I assume, due to his supposed ‘mystery’! For God’s sake, he barely troubled the Englishmen during the Champions Trophy 2009 and didn’t trouble Adrian Barath when he scored his maiden century recently, so I would most probably expect him to get carted all over the place during the tournament and replaced by Rangana Herath (hopefully).
So, to wind this up, Sri Lanka have genuine potential to take home the Cup for the 2nd consecutive time in the sub-continent. There is a good balance of youth and experience, and everyone is fit and ready to fire on all cylinders. It all boils down to consistency!
Prediction : World Cup Winners.
Preview by Thiru Cumaran