There are two aspects here that require examination.
Alongside South Africa, Sri Lanka is another incredibly unfortunate side during cricket World Cups, losing four ICC finals this century before winning the 2014 T20 World Cup.
However, the quest to break the 50-over World Cup drought remains, and they’ll be looking to make some genuine strides leading up to the 2023 edition.
Opening the batting will be Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Jayasuriya changed how ODI cricket was played and perceived by players and fans. Taking advantage of the fielding restrictions, the Sri Lankan left-hander was instrumental to the success of the Sri Lankan team throughout his career. He was a pretty handy bowler as well, picking up 323 ODI wickets.
His partner in Tillakaratne Dilshan was a great batsman in his own right. With over 10,000 ODI runs and 22 ODI hundreds, he could arguably be regarded as a better opener than Jayasuriya. Transforming from a middle-order batsman to an opener in the mid-2000s, Dilshan’s numbers went up consistently the more games he played. He was a handy off spinner and a gun fielder, especially at gully and point.
My first drop is the legend that is Kumar Sangakkara. Will Sri Lankan fans ever find such a graceful and elegant batsman from the island nation ever again? Probably not. With shots all over the ground, Sangakkara’s signature shot is his cover drive. His scary feats would lead him to being the leading Sri Lankan ODI run-scorer, eclipsing Sanath Jayasuriya with 13975 runs. He should’ve played until the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, considering how good he was on the English county circuit. With 501 dismissals behind the stumps, there’s almost no competition in giving Sangakkara the gloves in this XI.
At number four is the elegance of Aravinda De Silva. Considering the era he had played in, De Silva had a healthy average and strike rate in one-day cricket. Although I never got to see him play live, I always go on YouTube to watch his century from the 1996 World Cup final. It is a shame that De Silva retired in 2003 rather than playing on for a year or two more, but he was a classy player regardless.
My captain at number five is Mahela Jayawardene. A man with an excellent cricketing brain, Jayawardene racked up over 12,000 ODI runs. The only player to score a century in a World Cup semi-final and final, he was a solid rock regardless of where he batted between one and five. Whether it was dancing down the wicket to spinners or cutting and pulling the quicks, Jayawardene oozed class when batting. As captain, he led Sri Lanka to the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, only to fall short against a rampaging Australian side.
My batting all-rounder is the reliable Angelo Mathews.
With a solid technique, Mathews has bailed out Sri Lanka many times with bat in the middle order. One innings that comes to mind is his 77 not out against Australia at the MCG, where he and Lasith Malinga helped Sri Lanka chase down 240 from 8-107. Before his niggles got the better of him for a few years (he’s back to bowling again), Mathews was a handy seam bowler. He was another fine captain for Sri Lanka before he was scapegoated for Sri Lanka’s failures in the 2018 Asia Cup.
My finisher is Russel Arnold. His ability to adapt according to match situations and play unselfishly is what kept him highly regarded by his peers. A steady batsman down the order, Arnold played many handy knocks down the order and won games for Sri Lanka with the bat. A handy spinner and an athletic fielder, Arnold had a pretty fruitful career in ODIs.
At number eight is Chaminda Vaas. The best fast bowler to come out of Sri Lanka, Vaas made the ball talk, taking 400 ODI scalps. His ability to swing it both ways made him a dangerous bowler to handle for opposition batsmen.
His swing partner is the underrated Nuwan Kulasekara. Falling one short of 200 ODI wickets, Kulasekara’s ability to swing the new ball and nail his yorkers made him a successful ODI bowler. He won many games for Sri Lanka with the ball. One match that comes to mind is his 5-22 at the Gabba in 2013, using the conditions perfectly to suit his style of bowling.
To complete the bowling line-up are the legends that are Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan, quality bowlers who made batsmen look like junior cricketers in their prime.
This is how the XI looks in the end.
1. Sanath Jayasuriya
2. Tillakaratne Dilshan
3. Kumar Sangakkara (wicketkeeper)
4. Aravinda De Silva
5. Mahela Jayawardene (captain)
6. Angelo Mathews
7. Russel Arnold
8. Chaminda Vaas
9. Nuwan Kulasekara
10. Lasith Malinga
11. Muttiah Muralitharan