Before the ODI series against India, the Island Nation needed atleast two wins to ensure automatic qualification to the 2019 World Cup in England. They did not win a single game and allowed India to inflict an embarrassing whitewash on them. As the series concluded, Sri Lanka ended with more questions than they started with frequent injury concerns further hampering their progress.
With the World Cup coming up, Sri Lanka will need some clear cut plans to go forward. That they had none so far was evident in the manner in which they succumbed to India. It was so embarrassing that the crowd resorted to disrupting the game at one stage.
When Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup, they had no superstars. But they were a team of individuals who were determined to not let the occasion or opposition get on top of them. That is exactly what Sri Lankan cricket needs now. Direction. At the moment, they are at the precipice, staring at the abyss below, ready to fall into it.
They need inspiration and quickly. They had appointed Upul Tharanga as their ODI skipper and Dinesh Chandimal as their Test skipper. But neither of them could show the way for a young unit. A shrewd, confident captain is sometimes all it takes to lift up a whole team.
“When players start to realise that they are protected by their captain, looked after by their captain, they will give their best. If they are not sure, that’s where the concerns start. And I always felt that younger players needed to be protected; give confidence to them so that they could go for a longer period. That’s what I did and I was lucky to have some selectors who could understand the game and players’ mentality”, Arjuna Ranatunga had mentioned in an interview on The Indian Express.
The final portion is also critical to Sri Lankan cricket. The selectors have been woeful and eventually paved way for them to all resign together midway through the series. In one way, it serves Lankan cricket well. They need better player management and better selectors. Once the young players get that backing from their selectors and captain, the performances are bound to improve.
Fitness is another concern for the Lankans. In the yo-yo endurance test conducted, only two players – Lahiru Madushanka and Dushmantha Chameera – had reasonable levels of fitness. Lasith Malinga, who weighed 80kgs (176 pounds), failed one test while just nudging the mark in the other three.
Fitness is something which has been in the spotlight especially with the number of injuries the Lankans suffered right through this series. While fitness does not necessarily mean a well built body or six pack abs, ‘cricket fitness’ is something players need to work on.
“When you are a batsman, you need to bat for a longer period. When you are a bowler, you need to bowl certain number of overs. Some of the fast bowlers who played under me, they used to bowl at least one-and-a-half hours for a day and at least three-four days for a week, and they never had any injuries at that time. So that’s where people should realise what is cricket fitness. There were players even under my captaincy who could run 25 rounds at the SSC. But they couldn’t bowl more than four-five overs. So you need to understand, when you are a sports authority, what cricket fitness is all about”, Ranatunga had revealed in that interview.
Some areas like the opening combination or the right fast bowling personnel has been a major source of concern. More often than not Tharanga or Dickwella give them dynamic starts but get out in the 30s to leave the bulk of the work to the middle-order batsmen. Angelo Mathews, in the absence of Asela Gunaratne, has been the only dependable batsman in the middle-order and has struggled to create an impact without partners for support. The induction of Lahiru Thirimanne changed things a tad bit with his experience coming to the fore. But they do need to back their youngsters and it is upto these senior players to oversee the young bunch.
The bowling unit has been shoddy with Chameera and Malinga looking downright pathetic. Viswa Fernando was a welcome change and he bowled decent spells to cement down his spot. In the spinner front, Dananjaya takes the cup with a sensational display that almost gave Lanka an unlikely win. The likes of Siriwardana, Pushpakumara and Wanidu Hasaranga had little to show although Hasaranga is a youngster Lanka may want to test more. Siriwardana also made decent contributions with the bat but Pushpakumara’s innocuous left-arm spin may not be required. Lakshan Sandakan offers more as a wrist spinner and should be backed.
All said and done, the team is young and there is immense scope for betterment in the coming years. Kusal Mendis, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Viswa Fernando, Akila Dananjaya and Dushmantha Chameera are some youngsters bubbling with talent. Sri Lanka’s administration, though, has been deplorable and it has more often than not contributed to their lacklustre display on the field. But the youngsters in this line-up are well and truly capable of taking Sri Lankan cricket to another level. But they need a sharp leader and a maniac coach determined enough to groom this young bunch. In short, they need an Arjuna Ranatunga like leader and soon.