Bowling isn’t broken. It is the batting that needs fixing!
Nothing has gone well for Sri Lanka in the world cup thus far. Their pre-tournament form was wrecked, the world cup song for Sri Lanka was cheesy and Kumar Dharmasena- the Sri Lankan umpire found him in the middle of a controversy.
The defeat against New Zealand didn’t come as a surprise since the island nation were thumped 2-4 in the ODI series against New Zealand. Sri Lanka attempted the same strategies and tactics 6 times in the series and succeeded only twice.
Sri Lanka cannot be blamed for over-relying on their bowlers since only four times have the batsmen crossed a score in excess of 300 since 2014. The run of victory in 2014 and the brace of wins in New Zealand came in the back of very good bowling.
So it is no surprise that the team management and the captain were critical of the bowling performances in the first match in the ICC cricket world cup 2015. The team wants their bowlers to restrict the opposition under 280 so that the batsmen can construct a successful chase. But whenever the bowlers leaked more than 300 runs, the team has failed to chase it down.
Even though bowlers are expected to keep teams down to a modest total, are they the only one to be blamed in case of a defeat? While most teams, successfully chase down 300 plus scores, should the batting lineup not be scrutinized for failing to put up hefty scores?
The problem in the batting lineup became apparent in the series against India when all what the team could muster were scores of 194,274,242,251 and 286 when Rohit Sharma himself scored 264 runs in one of those games. We must have realized the impotency of our batting back then. But Sri Lanka circumscribed themselves to ‘no need to panic’ mode and went with the same tactics into the series against England.
When England played no specialist spinner in most games, Sri Lanka employed 3 spinners in addition to a spin bowling all-rounder. The spinners spun webs around the English batsmen as the home team clinched the series 5-2. Was Sri Lanka looking forward to play on rolled muds in the antipodes?
In New Zealand, there were some hasty changes made to the lineup but still the team relied a lot on their slow bowling phalanx. The pitch responded to spin bowling only in one game as Sri Lanka won that game comprehensively. But in swinging conditions and on good batting tracks the bowlers failed and so did the team. The bowling and fielding attracted criticism from all quarters, but none were ready to find the gaping hole in our batting lineup.
I am not sure how far the tainted management played a part in brushing the batting woes under the carpet and pointing fingers at the bowling attack. Chaminda Vaas was accused and was almost stripped off his position of bowling coach, while the batting miseries never came into limelight. Was it because it is the brother-in-law of the secretary of SLC who is in-charge for batting?
Rumesh Rathnayake was brought into the staff team, but how better has the bowling lineup fared since his inclusion? I found no difference, to be honest.On the other hand, is it justified to demand the bowlers to do the donkeywork of bowling well on good batting tracks? When most teams regularly score runs in excess of 300 plus, should it not be our batsmen who should be blamed for their inane display?
On the other hand, is it justified to demand the bowlers to do the donkeywork of bowling well on good batting tracks? When most teams regularly score runs in excess of 300 plus, should it not be our batsmen who should be blamed for their inane display?
It is good to see Sri Lankan not panicking. Panic has not set in on the side, but does that mean they can be oblivious to their mistakes? How could they retain a batting order that has failed in most games, saying they expect it to come good? How long is the expectation expected to perpetuate?
Sri Lankans knew that they do not have the team to win the world cup. Yet, they hoped, for Sri Lanka’s performance increases manifolds in ICC tournaments. But any such hope came crashing down as Sri Lanka succumbed to New Zealand in familiar style in the first game. Sri Lankans have lost faith and “win or defeat we love you” phrase has become a cliché in the social media. Some including me are predicting a first stage exit for the team.
But it is not too late. If Sri Lanka can stop being stubborn about their batting order and forgo their misplaced, unjustified, eternal trust on the failing middle order, Sri Lanka can still go all the way in this tournament. Three good games at the business end of the tournament is all what you need to take you to glory.
The first five games of the world cup, lay bare Sri Lanka’s problems. In the first innings of the first five games, the middle and lower order (number 5,6,7 & 8) scored a total of 802 runs at an average of 66.8 and a strike rate of 119.06. In comparison, Sri Lanka’s lower order could only score 311 runs in their last 7 innings. That accounts for an average of 12.96 and a strike rate of 66.86. When runs deluge at the death, the Sri Lankan lower order scores only 66 runs per 100 balls, which is hardly suffice.
It is also paramount to look at the contribution from the top and middle & lower order. In the first innings of the first five games the top order (number 1-4) contributed 46.9% of the total runs scored by their team at the end of an innings. The lower order’s contribution was 49.628%.
But Sri Lanka’s top order in their last 7 innings scored 73.5% of the final score while the middle & lower order’s contribution was a measly 18.155%.
But the most important stats of all is the percentage of runs scored during the first 35 overs and the last 15 overs. The first innings of the first five games in the world cup saw teams scoring 53.8% runs of the final score in the first 35 overs and they almost doubled the score in the last 15 overs. 46.16% of the total runs came in the last 15. Predictably, Sri Lanka’s numbers were unbecoming. 72.21% of the total runs came in the first 35 overs and the last 15 overs produced only 27.78% of the runs. This does not mean that Sri Lanka has done better in the first 35 overs. Sri Lanka’s first 35 over performance was on par with most teams but what separates them from the best is the last 15 overs.
Come to think of it, most teams struggled with their top order in this world cup. South Africa were 4 down for 83 before their lower-middle order lifted them. Australia were 3 down for 70 prior to the combined effort of the lower-middle order that hovered them over to a score of 342. West Indies were 87-5, as Sammy and Simmons launched a wanton savage to take their team to a score of 304.
On the other hand, you find Sri Lanka getting off to good starts, with a strong platform set in the 35th over to have the batsmen go berserk at the death, only to have the podium splurged by the power less lower order. This problem has plagued us for a long time and it is a surprise that the management has paid no heed. Vaas was under flak for the inept bowling performances in the flat roads of India, but none attended to the batting failures on the very same flat tracks.
It is noteworthy that Dale Steyn, arguably the best bowler of our time went at 7.11 runs per over against Zimbabwe, of all oppositions. James Anderson leaked 6.7 runs per over. So expecting our bowlers to contain teams is a preposterous strategy.
So, it is conspicuous that the problem lies with the lower order. There is no point censuring the selections. Yes, our best 15 is not in the world cup, but if we can improvise we can certainly counter our problems.
Hence, the management must make sure that the best batsman is chosen for each batting position and not the best position is assigned to a batsman. In other words, the team should think about what works for the team, rather than what works for a particular batsman.
Before you read further, let me warn you I am going to adduce a tendentious batting order.
The matches in world cup have established the need for boundaries at the slog overs. Hence, Sri Lanka should ascertain that batsmen capable of hitting boundaries bat at 5,6 & 7. As you would have thought, Thisara Perera has the best balls per boundary ratio (BPBR). But he is reliable neither with the bat, nor with the ball and hence, cannot be included. Jeevan Mendis has the third best BPBR, but he too is a bits and pieces all-rounder. Sri Lanka needs specialists and hence, Mendis is excluded.
Dilshan has the second best BPBR, and hence, should occupy a slot in the middle order. In the first game, Dilshan lacked the fluency that Thirimanne possessed and the story has been the same for some time. So a classier batsman at the top will ensure Sri Lanka is not bogged down early in the innings. Dilshan has been a decent finisher for Sri Lanka before being promoted to open and he is the only batsman capable of hitting big along with Angelo Mathews in the Sri Lankan lineup.
Mahela has scored a boundary per 7.8 balls since the dawn of 2015 and his ability to pick gaps would help Sri Lanka score fast at the death. So, he should drop down a place and bat at 5. Mathews is the best in the business when it comes to finishing games and he should bat at 7. So the lower order’s composition would be as follows: Mahela at 5, Dilshan at 6 and Mathews at 7.
Dimuth Karunaratne batted well at number 4 in the warm-ups, hence playing him at number 4 is the best way of making some use of him. Thirimanne has found the sheen he had in the Asia Cup at the top and he should continue opening. So the only two remaining batsmen are Dinesh Chandimal and Kumar Sangakkara. Chandimal has opened the innings twice in the past, but since it is not certain as to how he would fare against the moving ball and that would mean Sangakkara will have to open along with Thirimanne.
Yes, there is the risk of losing our batsman very early, but we need to remind ourselves of the fact that Sangakkara has been in the crease as early as the second over in most games in the past. This would also mean Chandimal will get to bat at three.
This will also allow the youngsters to afford to take time to settle down before accelerating. Both Chandimal and Thirimanne are very much capable of scoring more than run a ball when settled. This batting order will also ensure that there would be experience at the death and we can expect the two senior men to launch from the set platform.
This article was first published in a href=”http://www.islandcricket.lk/opinion/editorial/41022022015″>Island Cricket