Sri Lanka is the second most consistent team in World Cups, after Australia, since the 1996 edition in the subcontinent. They entered the semi-finals once (2003), finals twice (2007 and 2011) and ended up as the champions in 1996.
Having matured as a cricketing nation only in 1996, it is no surprise that the all-time XI is dominated by players belonging to the 1990s and 2000s.
While there were Sri Lankan batting greats of the ilk of Duleep Mendis, Roy Dias, and Sidath Wettimuny who played prior to the 1990s, they had to be excluded as a result of having below par outings in World Cups.
There were a lot of difficulties in picking the No.6 and No.7 batsmen for Sri Lanka since no batsman has occupied that spot in the Sri Lankan setup for long enough to be considered a specialist. Hence, certain players were picked largely on the impact they had on the team rather than looking into their numbers.
The numbers that were considered were only from World Cup matches, and the playing XI does not consist of the best performers per se but instead focuses on coming up with the best combination possible.
This is the sole reason for the exclusion of Marvan Atapattu from the XI. Despite averaging 43.41 with the bat, which is the fourth-best average for a Sri Lankan in the tournament’s history, Atapattu misses out since the opening spots are occupied by two emphatic openers. The former Sri Lankan captain often failed to make an impact while batting in the middle-order.
A formidable team that is capable of outdoing opponents in any conditions should consist of the following in my view:
- Two aggressive openers
- A solid number three who bats through the innings
- Two aggressive middle-order batsmen who can score runs freely through the middle of an ODI innings
- One batsman who can absorb pressure and is capable of re-building an innings in case of early casualties
- One finisher who bats well with the lower-order
- One batting all-rounder who bowls seam-up
- One seam bowling all-rounder who bats a bit
- Two lethal fast bowlers capable of taking wickets with the new ball
- One swing bowler
- Two batting all-rounders who bowl spin
- One wicket-taking spinner
#1 Sanath Jayasuriya
The hero of the 1996 triumph, Sanath Teran Jayasuriya is an automatic choice for the opener’s slot in Sri Lanka’s all-time World Cup XI. Jayasuriya was Sri Lanka’s secret of success in 1996 and was also the key man in Sri Lanka reaching the finals in 2007.
He has played the most number of World Cups for Sri Lanka along with Muttiah Muralitharan. He took part in five World Cup editions and scored 1,165 runs for the island nation in that period, which is the highest number of runs by a Sri Lankan in the tournament.
Despite him averaging only 34.26 with the bat, the lightning starts he usually provided would help the stable middle-order build on the quick foundation he lays down.
With the ball, Sanath picked up 27 wickets at an average of 39.25. His slow left-arm spin will add another dimension to the team and provide more balance.
There was a tussle between Tillakaratne Dilshan and Marvan Atapattu for the second opener’s spot, but Dilshan’s bowling and fielding gave him an edge over the latter.
Both Dilshan and Atapattu have played in two World Cups hitherto, with the former averaging 47.80 with the bat and the latter averaging 43.41.
Dilshan, obviously, has a better strike-rate than the current Sri Lankan coach, and he, along with Jayasuriya, will be a nightmare for bowlers.
To add to his exploits with the bat in hand, Dilshan has been a barricade at backward point for around a decade, taking some paranormal catches and intercepting tracer-bullets. With the ball, Dilshan has 13 wickets at an average of 21.84 which makes his inclusion inevitable.
#3 Kumar Sangakkara
One of the easiest decisions to make, Kumar Sangakkara occupies the No.3 slot in Sri Lanka’s all-time World Cup XI without much debate.
A wicketkeeper-batsman by trade, Sanga can be chosen on the basis of his batting prowess alone. His aggressive yet unfaltering style of batting allows him to bat in any situation. But what the team requires from him is to play rock-hard, durable knocks that will allow the flair-filled batting to bat around him.
The team I picked needs a consistent batsman at No.3 in order to offset the dazzling style of batting of the rest which is destined to be capricious. Sanga, incontrovertibly, has been the most consistent batsman for Sri Lanka, having scored his runs at an average of 45.04 from number three.
As a wicketkeeper too, Sanga is head and shoulders above the rest, and the only wicketkeeper who comes close to the southpaw is Romesh Kaluwitharana. But the latter’s inconsistent batting sees him lose out.
#4 Mahela Jayawardene
Picking a No.4 becomes a dilemma when you have to choose between two of Sri Lanka’s most talented batsmen.
Aravinda de Silva is arguably the best batsman to hail from Sri Lanka. His 66 off 47 balls, when their backs were against the wall, against India in the semi-finals of the 1996 WC is an illustration of what he is capable of when he is at his absolute best. The right-hander is also the second highest run-getter for Sri Lanka in WCs, with 1064 runs at an average of 36.68.
Mahela Jayawardene, on the other hand, has a better average than de Silva, scoring 37.5 runs per innings with an aggregate of 975 runs. Like Aravinda, Mahela is also known for his flashy, brisk run-scoring which will be crucial in case the openers decide to make an early return to the pavilion.
Since it will be a big loss to the team if only one of them can be picked at the expense of the other, I decided to include both of them in the XI, with one of them slated at No.4 and the other at 5.
Jayawardene’s returns batting at No.5 have been far from impressive, and Aravinda’s high-class performance in the 2003 WC at No.5 sees Jayawardene occupying the number four spot.
#5 Aravinda de Silva
Despite being an excellent No.4 batsman, as mentioned in the previous slide, Aravinda de Silva has been demoted to No.5 in order to accommodate Mahela Jayawardene.
Aravinda’s place at No.5 is strengthened owing to the fact that he produced a number of counter-attacking innings of immense machismo in the 2003 WC in South Africa.
The two sixes which he flicked to the leg side boundary against the pace of Brett Lee during that tournament are still fondly remembered among the many memories left by the flamboyant right-hander.
He is also a canny off-spinner, illustrated by the 16 WC wickets to his name.
#6 Arjuna Ranatunga
Arjuna Ranatunga, fondly known as “Captain Cool”, has been dropped down to No.6 in order to include both Jayawardene and Aravinda in the team. A burly, stocky left-handed batsman, Ranatunga was gifted with the ability of handling pressure at any level.
Though notorious for his phobia for quick singles, Ranatunga was capable of scoring at better than run-a-ball without taking too many risks. His deft cuts and fine glances, clubbed with his slog sweeps and drives, often made containing him a Herculean task for the fielding team.
He finished his WC career with 969 runs at an average of 46.14.
Apart from his skills down the order, what makes him a must-have in the team is his canny, astute and sagacious leadership qualities. He managed to turn a mediocre team into world conquerors with his innovative captaincy skills and by making the best use of what was at his disposal in 1996.
Even though the line-up is bursting at the seams with captains, Ranatunga will lead this XI for his fearless and aggressive nature.
#7 Angelo Mathews
The dearth of a proper No.7 in Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaigns paves the way for a relatively inexperienced Angelo Mathews to get into the team.
Mathews, thus far, has featured only in the 2011 World Cup, and an injury to him made Sri Lanka make a complete overhaul to their team for the final, exemplifying the balance be brought to the team.
He is one of two players in the team who have been selected largely on the impact they have had on their team rather than WC performance. Mathews has played 8 WC matches until now and averages 31.33 with the bat while picking up 6 wickets.
The current captain’s ability to finish an innings and hit big along with his faculty to bat with the tail makes him an ideal No.7.
#8 Chaminda Vaas
The first of three fast bowling spots goes to Chaminda Vaas, the best paceman Sri Lanka has ever produced.
In spite of being a medium-fast bowler, Vaas had the ability to swing the ball both ways, the clever use of which turned out to be lethal for opening batsmen. Midway through his career, Vaas added reverse-swing to his armoury which together with his cleverly disguised slower deliveries made him a good prospect at the death. He holds the record for being the only bowler to pick up a hat-trick off the first three balls of an innings in ODIs, which came in the 2003 World Cup.
The southpaw picked up 39 wickets at an average of 21.22. Vaas was also a handy lower-order batsman with the capacity to contribute crucial runs towards the latter part of an ODI innings.
#9 Lasith Malinga
#10 Rumesh Ratnayake