Champika Fernandi in Abu Dhabi
Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews apologized to home fans profusely after his team made a first round exit from the six-nation tournament following defeats against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. This was Sri Lanka’s worst ever performance at Asia Cup—a tournament they previously won five times.
“We let the country down, sorry about that,” a visibly emotional Mathews said after the match.” "It's just the batting unit that let us down. This was shocking from the whole team.”
The 91-run defeat on Monday was their second in the tournament after Bangladesh completely outplayed the Lankans on Saturday, drawing first blood with a crushing 137-run win. Both times, Sri Lanka did not last the full quota of overs and didn’t even pass the 160 run mark.
Sri Lanka had come to the tournament with renewed hopes after winning back-to-back matches against South Africa at home. But the players were at sea against a vastly improved Afghan outfit who put on a spirited effort--first with the bat, then with the ball--recording a historic win.
The defeat has left Mathews lost for words as he himself struggles to come to terms with how meekly they surrendered to a new kid on the block in a must win situation.
“To be honest, I don’t have any answers, it was very disappointing,” Mathews said. “We played better cricket in the latter parts of the South Africa series. Just disappointing to see the way the boys went about it. We couldn't handle pressure. Not passing 150 on both occasions is very shocking and disappointing."
The defeats have drawn heavy criticism about the manner in which the playing XI were selected as cricket pundits say Sri Lanka should have stuck to their tried-and-tested formula of seven batsmen and four bowlers and not six-batters-to-five-bowlers formula which has proved disastrous for the team.
“If you take Bangladesh, they played same guys for almost ten years," Mathews lamented. "And Afghanistan has played really good cricket over the past years. It’s embarrassing...but it’s not an embarrassment to lose to Afghanistan and Bangladesh, because they played better cricket than us. It’s just shocking the way we batted in both matches."
This is not the first time Mathews has felt this way. When Sri Lanka conceded a home ODI series (2-3) against Zimbabwe, he not only apologized for the defeats but resigned from his captaincy.
With a tough schedule ahead in the run-up to the World Cup, Mathews admitted Sri Lanka must make a quick turnaround to be a competitive team.
“I don’t think it’s about talent,” Mathews said. “We showed what we are capable of during last series against South Africa. It’s just that the pressure-handling and situation-handling wasn’t good this time, on both occasions. We cracked under pressure. We admit that. That is purely mental. We need to find a solution because we can’t just move on like this .It’s going to be a quick turnaround. In a couple of weeks we will play England at home and it’s going to be tough series once again and this kind of performance is unacceptable. It’s shocking for all of us."
Mathews complimented Bangladesh and Afghanistan for the manner in which they outplayed the Lankans.
“Credit to Bangladeshis and Afghanistanis," he said. "They squeezed us and never let us off the hook and we succumbed to pressure both times. Credit should go to them. They batted well, they fielded well and bowled well. They are better than us."
Meanwhile, Team Manager Charith Senanayake in a Facebook post following the embarrassing exit said that he is gutted by the performance and apologized to all the fans.
“Perhaps the hardest bus ride ever,” he wrote. “Return from Abu Dhabi, extremely unpleasant & absolute torture. No words to express the feeling inside & the disappointment. Guess the return back home, even worse.... Sincere apologies to all the fans. Big thank you to our brothers & sisters in DXB & Abu Dhabi for their support. Believe me, we feel your pain, perhaps anger & frustration too. We are sorry.”