By Amindha de Alwis
Sri Lanka head into this month’s T20 World Cup with plenty to prove, having sunk to tenth position in the ICC T20I Rankings and being required to fight it out in the Opening Round of the tournament in order to qualify for the Super 12 stage.
One can scarcely remember the last time that Sri Lanka entered a global tournament with public expectations as low as at present.
Sri Lanka however negotiated Ireland, the Netherlands and Namibia with ease, qualifying for the Super 12 with a game in hand.
Sri Lanka’s T20I record in the last two years does not paint a pretty picture. In 16 completed games since the start of 2020, before the First Round of the T20 World Cup, the side has recorded merely 3 wins while collecting 13 losses. Two of the wins in question also came against a second-string India side who were further hamstrung by several players being ruled out due to Covid-19 related concerns.
While all teams go through poor stretches from time to time, the manner of many of the defeats has been particularly concerning. Sri Lanka’s batting has more often than not appeared a class or two below their international counterparts with the majority of the batting order bearing woeful statistics.
For instance heading into World Cup, in nine innings batting first since the start of last year, Sri Lanka’s average total has been 131; the sort of total that gives the bowling line-up scant opportunity to build up any pressure thereafter.
The ability to score runs at a strike-rate consistent with international standards is a huge concern for the side coming into the T20 World Cup. Wicketkeeper batsman Kusal Perera (132) is the only player in the squad to have a strike-rate in excess of 130. What is particularly alarming is the bevy of top-order batsman with career T20I strike-rates below 110. Frontline batsmen Avishka Fernando (96), Dinesh Chandimal (105) and Dhananjaya De Silva (108) all fall into this category as do Dasun Shanaka (106) and Wanindu Hasaranga (107), two players whom one would not associate with such meagre strikes rates.
The fact that at least four of the above players are likely to feature in Sri Lanka’s top-7 in a given game does not inspire a great deal of confidence. However, this is not a slight at the selectors for including the above players. It is indeed difficult to point out the names of any quick-scoring batsmen (from those available for selection) who are glaring omissions from the squad named. The fact of the matter is that the batsmen at hand are among Sri Lanka’s best but will still have to raise their game for the team to pose a serious threat at T20I level.
And despite the comfortable wins in the First Round, there were still concerns about the batting, especially in the games against Namibia and Ireland, but the hope is the changes made – with Pathum Nissanka and Charith Asalanka at the top – would see a change in form.
Sri Lanka’s bowing line-up is however firing perfectly, albeit against the above three teams in the First Round, with Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera having performed admirably in recent times. The former, in particular, has an outstanding T20I record with 36 wickets in 25 matches at a brilliant economy rate of just 6.57. Mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana was the leading wicket taker in the First Round, with Lahiru Kumara bowling with pace and fire in the three matches.
Despite making their way to the Super 12s, that too impressively, progressing beyond that would be a daunting task as only the top two teams from each group of six would qualify for the knockouts.