The Pakistan cricket team that toured Australia in 1983 dreamed the dream of all Pakistan Test teams: to be the first to win a Test series on Australian shores.
With just two weeks to go until the Cricket World Cup gets underway, we’re previewing all ten teams in the tournament, starting with the side set to struggle more than any other: Sri Lanka.
Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Dhananjaya de Silva, Avishka Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Pradeep, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Isuru Udana, Jeffrey Vandersay.
No team’s squad raised more eyebrows than Sri Lanka’s. The 1996 champions revealed a side without experienced batsman and former skipper Dinesh Chandimal, hard-hitting wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella and off-spinner Akila Dananjaya, and handed the captaincy to Dimuth Karunaratne. While he led the Test side in their recent tour of South Africa, Karunaratne hasn’t played an ODI since the last World Cup.
We’re grasping at straws here, but the Lankans’ bowling attack is what they’ll be banking their hopes on. Lasith Malinga has been around forever and is still as good a death bowler as there is in world cricket. His experience and nous will be crucial.
Suranga Lakmal has taken a wicket every 35 balls during his ODI career and will be the side’s strike bowler during the tournament. He showed a bit of class with the pink ball against Australia earlier this year, and is capable of getting early breakthroughs. Sri Lanka will certainly need him to.
There is some experience alongside Malinga in the rest of the side – Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Kusal Perera and Kusal Mendis are no strangers to international cricket. But not all of them are proven performers in the 50-over game, and there’s just as much inexperience in the squad.
Batting. Consistency. Leadership. Recent form. There’s plenty to take your pick from here for Sri Lanka.
They’ve lost all eight of the ODIs they’ve played this year, have a captain whose last game in the format is less recent than the last World Cup final, and their best bowler in Malinga was removed from the captaincy because, according to selector Asantha de Mel, he “does not get along well with some of the senior players”.
But the biggest problem has to be the side’s batting stocks. Only three of the 15 players picked average more than 30 with the bat in ODIs, one of whom (Isuru Udana) only has three innings to his name. Thirimanne (34.7) and Mathews (42.3) are the other two.
Sri Lanka have passed 300 once in ODIs this year – 326 in their first game of the year, after New Zealand had already racked up 371 – which is incidentally the number of innings they haven’t been bowled out.
The one time Sri Lanka didn’t lose all ten of their wickets this year was when their innings was reduced to 24 overs under the Duckworth-Lewis method – and even then, they were five wickets down.
Mendis is an emerging star of the Test arena, but his ODI bonafides are non-existent. He’s scored just one century in his 60 innings, and averages in the high twenties.
But with Sri Lanka crying out for a batsman to build their innings around, this World Cup is the perfect opportunity for him to prove he’s capable of transferring his undoubted talent and solid technique to the ODI arena.
If Mendis can fire in England, his side just might be able to snatch a surprise victory or two.
This will be a rough tournament for Sri Lanka. There’s hardly an aspect of their game which doesn’t have serious question marks surrounding it, and with many expecting England’s tiny grounds to throw up 300-plus score after 300-plus score, being bowled out seven of eight innings this year tells us Sri Lanka just don’t have the runs to compete.