It seemed a target to huge for a side that had struggled to hold themselves together against the minnows. They needed a solid start. They got one. They needed their young guns to step up. They did. They needed some luck. They got it. They needed 388 runs. It seemed like an Everest in spite of the opposition’s lowly stature. When they got there, it was the highest total chased down in the whole of Asia and the fourth highest overall. They knew they need this run chase more than a World Cup at the moment. They knew they couldn’t falter. Not against Zimbabwe. Not after losing an ODI series at home to the same opposition.
Sri Lanka breathed a heavy sigh of relief. They knew they were lucky.
Any other team and Sri Lanka’s fate would have been sealed way before. But at that moment, the opposition did not matter. It wasn’t Sri Lanka vs Zimbabwe. It was Sri Lanka vs Sri Lanka. It was a team fighting against their self-belief. And when the frontier was conquered, there were smiles. They weren’t victory smiles. They were smiles of relief. Their faiths on themselves were rekindled.
From no.10 to no.1, the standard of opposition coming home is a steep curve upwards. There is a little expectation on Sri Lanka after their debacle against Zimbabwe. It would be an understatement to say that Sri Lanka have been struggling for the past few years. They have been woeful. It is the worst time for this team to face the no.1 ranked Test side led by a merciless skipper.
India are ruthless. On turning, subcontinental pitches, India turn into prowling carnivores ready to hunt down packs of wolves. Sri Lanka aren’t close to being the wolves. They are helpless sheep. They have nowhere to hide or run to. The poor sheep is pitted against the lion. But like with every hunt, there is a grain of hope. It is on this grain of hope that Lanka would clutch on in the build up to the big series. Their leader is down but they can’t afford to stay low. Standing up to fight is their only way out. After all, it helped them in the Champions Trophy.
Kusal Mendis and Asela Gunaratne were the heroes then. But the others stood strong around the pair. There would be no let-offs this time around. India are prepared for this hunt. They have practised this hunt and the feast afterwards, over and over in their dreams. Not once has the sheep escaped.
The only hope Sri Lanka has lain in their ability to attack. They can’t escape the hunt. They have to attack. There is a trait inherent in Sri Lankans which makes them roar. The first time they did, way back in 1996, they surprised all and sundry. But they had a tough skipper and a tougher team at the time. The current one is soft. It has further been softened by Zimbabwe’s heist.
That said, Lankans are warriors. They have a young team full of talented cricketers. It only takes one or two of them to start a renaissance. Through the history of cricket, the best of fight back a have come from unexpected quarters. Lanka have it in them. They only need to realise and tap it. But they don’t have time. All of that has to happen in a week.
They can plot all day long, put up plans ranging from A to Z and practice hard all day long. But it would all come down to how they perform on the field. They can’t sit back and hope India make a mistake. They don’t make mistakes in the sub-continent. Their young team can’t sit hoping that one of them would start the fight back. It has to be in unison. It has to be perfectly timed. When they attack, it should surprise India.
The element of surprise could be instrumental to Sri Lanka’s chances on this tour. The only way they can catch India off-guard is if they grab the game by the scruff of its neck. In the past, they had a number of known match-winners. This time around the men are unknown.
Their bowling attack minus that old freakish warrior, Rangana Herath, was rubbish against Zimbabwe. The ball barely beat the Zimbabwean bats and Indians have them wide and long. The bowling attack has a lot left to be desired. Much of Lanka’s hopes would rest on the spinners, Herath and Dilruwan Perera. But they cannot afford a slip-up from their quicker men. Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Kumara have to be consistent and tight. The Lankans would benefit from an X-factor spinner like Lakshan Sandakan. The wily chinaman spinner could be a bit of an unknown against fleet footed Indian batsmen.
Their batting, although a tad vulnerable, has improved over the past few months. But it needs a new flavour. Do they have the essentials to survive against Ashwin, Jadeja and Kuldeep? Probably not. But they need to believe. And apply.
Contests like these have unearthed heroes. Sri Lanka need a hero. They had two in the Champions Trophy clash. They had several when Australia toured them a year back. They need a few more now. Unlike the Aussies, dry and dusty pitches are what these Indian players grew up on. They are adept here. They are confident here. They dominate here. Much of Lanka’s hopes would rest on their batsmen. If they can outbat India, there would be pressure.
Lanka will know they are the underdogs. They could be slighted. They could be humbled. They could suffer a hiding at the hands of India’s masterful tweakers. It could be a pain. But without it, they cannot gain. They are low and down. There is a little expectation. No one is watching them. The timing is perfect for the rise. The team has matured and grown.
The siege is on. But they need to believe. They need to roar, loud and hard.