Getting Sri Lanka’s World Cup combination right
Sri Lanka in 2014 have been riding on the unprecedented form of Angelo Mathews and Kumar Sangakkara. Their bowling, even with Lasith Malinga’s presence, has frequently been toothless. The batting, apart from Sangakkara and Mathews, never really consistently delivered. They never successfully chased down a target above 300 this year. The bowling attack occasionally showed glimpses of the ability to threaten cohesively, but rarely for great lengths of time, which has worked well against teams with less threatening batting line-ups. Sri Lanka’s bowlers have relied heavily on trying to conserve runs, hoping to account for wickets by starving batsmen. Against good batting sides their bowlers tend to struggle, and the series against South Africa and India highlight this.
Tillakaratne Dilshan would be an automatic choice. The problem for Sri Lanka though has been his partner — Kusal Perera and Upul Tharanga have both failed.
Although Kusal Perera is likely to have a longer run, at least until the end of the ODI series against England, Mahela Jayawardene has been forthcoming about his willingness to open the batting. Kusal Perera’s form has been erratic, and even if he strikes big in the games to come, would he able to sustain it until the World Cup? Going by his average, the answer is ‘No’. Jayawardene is an exceptional opener, but the selectors will then have to deal with the gaping hole he will leave in Sri Lanka’s middle order, should he open.
Lahiru Thirimanne is another probable opener. His slow batting however can easily sap the momentum off Sri Lanka’s innings early. Kusal Perera has become unreliable and Tharanga has been disposed of yet again. Grooming a young opener is out of the question this close to the World Cup, which is why Sri Lanka must turn to Jayawardene to open the innings. He deserves the opportunity in his last World Cup.
Openers: Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene
Numbers 3 and 4
Sangakkara occupies the number three slot, but Jayawardene’s promotion would mean the middle order would be exposed. Sangakkara at No. 4 would provide more stability. Chandimal has handled pacy conditions in Australia competently before (in the 2012 CB Series) and Sri Lanka should try him at No. 3. This will ensure the middle order is not entirely out of the seniors’ purview. Sangakkara has reinvented his game and is more attacking now, his presence in the last 10 overs will help.
Number 3: Dinesh Chandimal
Number 4: Kumar Sangakkara
Numbers 5 and 6
Sri Lanka’s difficulty in finishing their innings on a high, coupled with their inability to chase 300-plus totals, is because they tend to run out of steam at the end of their innings. Mathews will have to drop down. Few bat better with the tail than him. His relegation would send Thirimanne up the order at No. 5. Sri Lanka will want his composed psyche to hold things together and build partnerships in the middle order.
Number 5: Lahiru Thirimanne
Number 6: Angelo Mathews
The bowling attack
Russell Arnold has been critical of the lack of venom in Sri Lanka’s bowling, and that was well exposed during the series against India. Malinga’s return can make a staggering change to the outlook of the bowling attack, but Sri Lanka desperately want another menacing pace bowler to support Malinga.
Dhammika Prasad or Shaminda Eranga have the opportunity to occupy that second seamer’s spot. Nuwan Kulasekera’s poor form and lack of pace sees him out of the side. Prasad has been in a very good rhythm, generating bounce and pace, but Eranga has been impressive sll the same. Eranga however is likely to get an edge over Prasad, since he has the ability to swing the ball both ways at pace.
Sri Lanka need a fast-bowling all-rounder, and with conditions in Australia and New Zealand likely to assist Thisara Perera’s bowling, and his big hitting ability practically earning him a permanent spot in the team, he is the automatic choice. When he starts to leak runs though, Sri Lanka would need to turn to a parsimonious pace bowler, which is where Mathews comes in.
Pace bowlers: Lasith Malinga, Shaminda Eranga/Dhammika Prasad, Thisara Perera
Spin options are surprisingly few. Sachithra Senanayake is currently not allowed to bowl and Rangana Herath’s workload has constantly reflected on his knees. Randiv did not turn out as hoped. Both Senanayake and Herath will be a part of Sri Lanka’s World Cup plans, but they would want a wicket-taking bowler to occupy that lone spinner’s spot.
Mendis has been taking wickets, but has also looked mundane against batsmen who play spin well. The selectors have shielded Mendis against subcontinental teams before, so he unlikely to play if they face either India or Pakistan in the knockouts.
Tharindu Kaushal is a talent Sri Lanka should have looked at. A tall, lanky off spinner can be tricky on bouncy surfaces. He has a doosra and a big off break. At the domestic level, Kaushal has picked up many five-wicket hauls but he is inexperienced. With ODI series against England and New Zealand before February’s World Cup, now is the time to see what he is made of.
Spinner: Tharindu Kaushal/ Ajantha Mendis
Backup spin options: Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake
The presence of four wicket-taking bowlers can prove costly, if more than one have an off day. Sri Lanka has to make up for that by having two all-rounders in their top seven. Mathews is one reliable option. Dilshan can be handy, yet he cannot be considered a reliable option.
If Jayawardene is promoted to open, it will create an empty space in the batting order that can be filled by either Kusal Perera or Tharanga. The former batted in the middle order for domestic teams and Sri Lanka A before he was promoted up to open. Tharanga has also done reasonably well in the middle order, which actually helps him overcome his problems with the moving ball, but a specialist batsman
at this spot can severely harm Sri Lanka’s balance, as it can leave Sri Lanka with fewer options in the bowling department during tough situations.
Sri Lanka have persisted with Seekkuge Prasanna as a spin bowling all rounder for quite some time. He has been good as a bowler, but his batting has been awful. With an already ailing batting line-up, Sri Lanka would want their No. 7 to make sufficient contributions with the bat. A wicket-taking spinner can also prompt the selectors look for a thrifty spinner, which might bring Senanayake back into action.
Chathuranga de Silva has wasted his opportunities and has a tentative approach when batting. Jeevan Mendis has been good as a leg spinner, and has come good recently with the bat, but whether Sri Lanka would turn to him is a question.
Danushka Gunathilaka is an opening batsman in good form. He is also a useful off spinner. If the selectors give him a chance, and if he grabs it, then he can be the solution. He can be an opener, and at the same time, he can bowl some fruitful overs of off spin in the middle overs. Sri Lanka are however less likely to gamble with him, at least until the end of the World Cup.
With Ashan Priyanjan’s poor form, Sri Lanka may have to settle for Kusal Perera at No. 7. If Kusal Perera does well as an opener, then things become far more simple.
Number 7: Dhanushka Gunathilaka (best option) – Kusal Perera (more likely option)
Sri Lanka XI: Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Shaminda Eranga, Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga
Reserves: Upul Tharanga, Dhammika Prasad, Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake, Danushka Gunathilaka
Sri Lanka’s woes going into the World Cup are plenty. The team is fighting against time to get the combination right. Obviously, it would be far-fetched to say they are one of the favourites to lift the trophy, but one should be mindful of the fact that no team enjoys going into a World Cup with the underdog tag more than Sri Lanka.