by Champika Fernando
This year’s Champions Trophy in England will be tough one for the Sri Lankan side as they go to England having pulled through a difficult period.
Their record in the first half of 2017 is by far their worst; they lost six of eight matches played (one win)--an indication of how tough it will be for Sri Lanka when the tournament kicks off on June 1.
Sri Lanka’s first-round opponents are South Africa, who are tournament favourites alongside India and Pakistan. Sri Lanka must win at least two matches to secure a semi-final spot. On paper, this seems increasingly difficult. The return of several experienced players could give the side an extra boost but by no means does Sri Lanka have all the components to win a major tournament in their ranks this time round.
Players to watch
Angelo Mathews is one complete player we have. But his form since returning from a long injury layoff is a matter of serious concern. His recent stint with the IPL hasn’t been as productive as expected, featuring only in three matches with a best of 31. He did make amends during the first warm-up match against Australia, scoring a belligerent 95.
Given his reputation for handling touch situations, however, one could expect the former Josephian skipper to rise to the occasion and lead from the front. To support him, selectors recalled a number of seniors including seamer Lasith Malinga, and Chamara Kapugedara, who are expected to shoulder much of the burden.
News In : Injury may keep Mathews out of CT opener
The biggest concern, however, is the fitness of Malinga--the premier limited-overs bowler in the world for the past several years. A recurring knee injury has restricted his appearance in cricket for the most part of two years. He is yet to regain his menacing form since he returned in February. While he hasn't played an ODI since 2015, millions of his fans around the world are expecting him to unleash his toe-crushing yorkers and light up the eight-nation tournament. With 291 wickets at 27.77, Malinga is also just nine wickets short of becoming only the third Sri Lankan to reach 300 or more wickets.
His presence on the side will invigorate the bowling department which includes Nuwan Kualasekara-- presently one of the finest death ball performers in the world. As Consultant Bowling Coach Allan Donald told Daily Mirror before heading to England, these two will be key for Sri Lanka’s success in England.
As much as they are effective at the death overs, they are as challenging anyone with the new ball and have consistently troubled batsmen with subtle variations. The bowling department also includes Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal—two bowlers with pace and bounce and also Chinaman Lakshan Sandakan. Sandakan lacks experience as he is playing in his first global event but the wrist spinner is expected to be Sri Lanka’s surprise package during the tournament.
“Lakshan Sandakan is going to be our key," Mathews said. "He is a bit of a mystery bowler and lot of teams haven’t seen him. He can be a big threat during this tournament."
There’s also Seekkuge Prasanna, a leg spinner who will play the dual role of a bowling all-rounder. However, the Sri Lankan attack has so far conceded over 680 runs in the two warm-ups played, something the coaching department is wary of as they head to the tournament proper on Saturday. South Africa has one of the world’s strongest batting line-ups.
Tharanga needs to fire
With the pitches expected to be batting-friendly in order to make it more suitable for broadcast, Sri Lanka’s batsmen need to fire all cylinders—something they have consistently failed to do in recent months. At the top of the order is Upul Tharanga, a player with over 6000 runs and 14 ODI centuries under his belt but whose recent performance has not been as impressive as his career. There have been some odd sparks along the way—for an instance his brilliant century in South Africa in February and the century against New Zealand in their final warm-up on Tuesday. Still, his lack of consistenc with the bat may put Sri Lanka under a pressure. He remains one of the best openers in limited-overs cricket with an ability construct long innings.
Niroshan Dickwella, his opening partner, has shown considerable promise in his brief career. Kusal Mendis, one of Sri Lanka's brightest prospects, has been a consistent scorer of runs and will play a key role at number three. Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Chamara Kapugedara, Asela Gunaratne and Kusal Perera will form the middle order. Unlike most other teams, Sri Lanka is without a batting star in their side.
Fielding has been atrocious for most part of the year but strong emphasis has been placed in recent weeks to lift up the standards. Sri Lanka have historically been one of the most impressive teams at ICC events. Come June, millions at home will wish for a strong showing to win the tournament which was jointly shared with India in 2002.
Mirror Cricket Spoke to Tharanga prior leaving to England , Watch the video below
Angelo Mathews (capt), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Pradeep, Asela Gunaratne, Chamara Kapugedara, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Lakshan Sandakan, Suranga Lakmal, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulaseka
Sri Lanka has featured in every single edition of the Champions Trophy since its inauguration in 1998. They shared the title with India in 2002 when heavy rains stopped play in Colombo. Sri Lanka have reached the semis twice—1998 and 2013 and quarter-finals in 2000, but have made first round exits in the 2004, 2006 and 2009 editions.
Most appearances – Mahela Jayawardene & Kumar Sangakkara (22)
Most runs –Jayawardene (742 from 21 innings)
Highest score –Sangakkara (134* v England in 2013)
Most hundreds - Upul Tharanga (2)
Most scores of 50+ - Jayawardene & Sangakkara (5)
Most sixes - Nuwan Kulasekara (8)
Most sixes in an innings - Kulasekara (4 v New Zealand in 2009)
Most runs in a single edition – Tharanga (320 in 2006)
Highest partnership – Tharanga & Sangakkara (165 v Zimbabwe in 2006)
Most wickets - Muttiah Muralitharan (24)
Best bowling figures – Farveez Maharoof (6-14 v West Indies in 2006) -
Mirror Cricket Spoke to Maharoof about his CT Performance, Watch the video below
Best bowling average – Maharoof (15.43)
Best bowling strike rate - Pramodya Wickramasinghe & Jeevan Mendis (18)
Most wickets in a series – Maharoof (12 in 2006)