As Sri Lanka prepares for their opening fixture at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup on Saturday, legendary seamer Chaminda Vaas says the team’s most pressing area of concern is their bowling unit.
Sri Lanka meets South Africa in their opening fixture on Saturday in Delhi, the first of nine first-round matches scheduled for the 1996 World Champions.
Wanindu Hasaranga, a star and a match-winner, and Dushmantha Chameera, Sri Lanka’s first-choice seamer, are missing from the Sri Lankan squad due to injuries. And Vaas says without them Sri Lanka’s bowling attack is “weak” on batting-friendly Indian wickets.
“We will miss them dearly,” Vaas, who led the seam attack in Sri Lanka’s victory at the 1996 World Cup, opined. “Hasaranga is a match-winner and losing him is a massive blow for us. With the World Cup around the corner, we should have managed him properly, but we kept on playing him.”
Hasaranga was the leading wicket-taker at the two most recent editions of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and also the leading wicket-taker during the World Cup Qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe earlier in the year.
The leg-spinner sustained a hamstring injury during the Lanka Premier League tournament that forced him out of the Asia Cup. He was recovering well to get back into the World Cup squad but was injured again during a two-kilometre run.
“We were worried about short-term goals rather than looking at the big picture. When Sri Lanka were winning matches notwithstanding the opposition, everyone, the SLC, the selectors and the fans were happy.
So, they wanted the momentum to continue and kept on playing the same squad without giving these key players a rest. We are paying for it today,” The 49-year-old former Sri Lanka fast-bowling coach said.
Chameera’s case is different. Following his knee surgery in Australia during the T20 World Cup last year, he returned to action during the ODI series against Afghanistan but developed a pectoral muscle injury that has kept him out of action once again.
Apart from these two, Lahiru Kumara, Dilshan Madushanka and Maheesh Theekshana are returning to the side following injury layoffs.
“Can they maintain the same level of intensity right through the first round without breaking down is the question the Sri Lanka team has before them now. We can’t afford to have any more dropouts due to injuries,” Vaas continued.
Sri Lanka lost both their warm-up games. Against Bangladesh, Sri Lankan bowlers managed to pick up only three wickets as they chased down a below-par score of 264 in 42 overs. In their second game, Afghanistan cruised to a six-wicket win with 23 balls remaining on the Duckworth and Lewis method.
“As we have seen so far in the warm-up games, there’s plenty of runs in these wickets and that’s when the challenge comes for the bowlers. If our batters strike form, which I believe they would, we can get over 300 runs but we need to defend that. This is the challenge we have,” he explained.
However, Vaas, who played in four World Cups, including two finals, during his 15-year-old international career is optimistic of Sri Lanka qualifying for the semi-finals.
“Historically we have done well in these big tournaments and I know the current team is more than capable of creating an upset. For that, however, they need to fire on all cylinders,’ he added.
Vaas believes Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Mendis will play a key role during the World Cup. “They are the key players in the side and I have a feeling that they will do well in the tournament and if they do, we will be able to make an impact,” he said. Mendis stroked a breezy 158 off 87 balls with nine sixes and 14 boundaries before retiring out against Afghanistan while De Silva made a half century (55) against Bangladesh.
Vaas took 761 international wickets in 439 matches across formats. (Champika Fernando)