By Champika Fernando
Ahead of the three-match ODI series against West Indies, skipper Dimuth Karunaratne says Sri Lanka are targeting to become the No. 4 team in the world across formats by the end of the year.
Sri Lanka have a slightly better ranking in Tests occupying the sixth slot but they are ranked eighth in the two limited over formats – ODI and T20 – so much so that the former T20 world champions are forced to play the qualifiers for this year’s World T20 in Australia.
Even though Karunaratne is not part of T20 format, he says the team’s new coaching management has sent out a clear message to the players to work towards fulfilling set goals.
“We want to be among the top by the end of the year and we are working towards that,” said Karunaratne who is credited for his excellent leadership qualities. “We have a very good set of coaches with us and they are really, really working hard to get things improved. I think, if we can continue the same momentum and intensity in our training, we can certainly be the team we want to be by the end of the year.”
Having struggled to change the team’s fortunes under the previous coaching management headed by Chandika Hathurusingha, Sri Lanka Cricket had opted for a largely foreign coaching staff headed by Mickey Arthur on the recommendation of SLC’s new Chief Cricket Operating Officer Jerome Jayaratne. Though the results are yet to be reaped, the coaches seem to have inculcated a professional culture within – something they were missing in the past.
“I can see a big commitment from the players as well. I myself have worked really hard on my fitness and have shed around 10kg and this is the story with many other players in the side. Unlike before, fitness plays a key role and we really need to be on top if we are to be successful today. The players know this and they are putting the extra yards to be fit,” the skipper said ahead of a tough series.
Apart from fitness, which now seems the factor in cricket with players in the calibre of Virat Kohli setting very high standards, Karunaratne admits that his charges are quite vulnerable against spin.
“We are very weak against spinners,” the national team’s opening batsman conceded. “We really need to improve our skills on playing spinners on good tracks. We saw this in Zimbabwe and the coaches are working on it. If you look at players from Australia and England, they play spin well. This is because they have played spinners on good sporting tracks compared to what we find in Sri Lanka – tracks that turn from day one. We need to change the way we play our domestic cricket, play them on good tracks where the spinners have to work hard for their wickets, then the batsmen will automatically improve their skills. It’s a big process, but at the moment we are trying to help the player counter spin, take calculated risks without fear. We might fail once or twice but there’s always a chance for us to be successful.”
Karunaratne who is leading the ODI side for the first time since the World Cup last year was content with the bowling department- both pace and in spin – as they have shown steady improvement during the last few months. Even though Sri Lanka played three ODIs against Pakistan in Pakistan last year, Karunaratne and many other senior players opted out due to security reasons.
“Wanindu Hasaranga and Lakshan Sandakan have improved a lot and they will lead the spin attack for us. After we lost Akila (Dananjaya) for the ban, we were struggling in the spin department, I must say that these two have really come up. It is the same with the fast-bowling department. We have Lahiru Kumara, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and Kasun Rajitha. And then there is Isuru Udana and Thisara Perera, and with Angelo (Mathews) also bowling, we are in good stead,” he explained.
Commenting on the series at hand, which starts with a match on February 22 at the SSC grounds, Karunaratne admits Sri Lanka will have a slight advantage given the home conditions but is not complacent against a team which boasts of many power-hitters.
“Look, this is going to be the first ODI series for many of us since the World Cup and will give us an opportunity gauge where we stand in the ODI format. West Indies are a dangerous and an experienced unit, so it’s going to be a tough series. But given the home advantage, we are slightly ahead of them but that leaves no room for us to be complacent,” he explained.
Sri Lanka and West Indies last met at the group stage of the World Cup in England where Sri Lanka beat them by 23 runs despite a maiden century from Nicholas Pooran who almost took West Indies over the line before Angelo Mathews dismissed him in sight of victory.
Sri Lanka is yet to finalize the 15-man squad. However, Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Janith, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga, Thisara Perera, Lahiru Kumara, Nuwan Pradeep and Lakshan Sandakan are likely to make the starting line up.