For a team that won the Cricket World Cup in 1996, the ICC Champions Trophy in 2002 (co-champions with India), the ICC T20 World Cup in 2014, consecutive runners up in 2007 and 2011 Cricket World Cups, and runners up in the ICC T20 World Cup in 2009 and 2012, the Sri Lankan’s are a complete disaster today. Years of slow decay have finally caught up as they come into the tournament with one win in their last 11 ODI series and a captain, Dimuth Karunaratne, their fourth captain in eight months, appointed in April despite not playing an ODI since 2017. They’re in a mess to put it lightly.
This time they start as the weakest side in the ten-team tournament arriving in the UK enduring a slew of leadership crisis’ to infighting in the team to poor results to administrative mess and the former champions require no less than a miracle to emerge a worthy challenger this time.
They were one of the first teams to reach England for the ICC Cricket World Cup – arriving in England on 7th May and were training at a private facility in London — Merchant Taylor’s School. Sri Lanka Cricket hopes that arriving three weeks prior to the competition will enable players to acclimatise to the conditions in England. However, deep in-fighting and divisions within the squad and the team management could spell disaster for the former champions and derail their campaign.
Can Sri Lanka reverse their terrible recent record? The 1996 champions have not won an ODI this year, a stretch of 10 games that features nine-straight losses and a washout against Scotland. The barren run forced Sri Lanka’s selectors to dump veteran speedster Lasith Malinga as captain and install Dimuth Karunaratne, who hasn’t played an ODI in more than four years, as skipper. He is not alone. Jeewan Mendis, another player who featured in an ODI more than four years ago also finds himself back in the squad for the World Cup. Also out of the squad are former captain Dinesh Chandimal, wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella and spinner Akila Dananjaya, along with openers Danushka Gunathilaka and Upal Tharanga.
All this confusion because Chairman of Selectors Ashantha De Mel and Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha are at dagger’s drawn; not seeing eye to eye and having contrasting views on the way forward for the team. During De Mel’s first media interaction, six months ago, after being named Chairman of Selectors, he expressed his reservations on captain Dinesh Chandimal. He said that the captain depended too heavily on the Head Coach and Chandimal was replaced as captain in the shorter format of the game with Lasith Malinga taking over. Six weeks later, Chandimal not only lost the Test captaincy but was axed from the team. Dimuth Karunaratne was named new Test captain.
The odds are against the Lions and they will have to defy logic to reach the semis. They are still hoping that one or two spectacular individual performances will take them over the line. That, however, is wishful thinking.
Before the action begins, Sri Lanka play two official warm-up games that give them the opportunity to fine-tune their playing XI. These matches are different in the sense that the teams are free to play all 15 of their squad to experiment with their lineups and test players for fitness issues. Both games are at 03.00pm and will be telecast on Star Sports and streamed live on Hotstar.
Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Kusal Perera, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis, Isuru Udana, Milinda Siriwardana, Avishka Fernando, Jeevan Mendis, Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeffrey Vandersay, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal
Champions in 1996 and a powerhouse till recently, the Lankan team is today at its lowest point. Led by a new captain, the team will look to history to pull itself up. And also to Lasith Malinga to fire its hopes… besides lethal yorkers.
Strength: While Malinga can win a match or two single-handedly, young spinner Akila Dhananjaya can also spin a web
Weakness: That the team is in complete disarray is an understatement. Batting is fragile; star players like Angelo Mathews is fighting his own demons
Lanka have lost 56 of the 85 ODIs played since 2015 World Cup and have not won a single bilateral series since May 2016, while their last ODI win had come way back in October last year. Their worst result came in 2017 when they lost to minnows Zimbabwe 2-3 in a five-match ODI series. They have lost all nine ODIs they have played this year. Going by their woeful form in the recent past, it would not come as a surprise if teams like Afghanistan and Bangladesh stun the island nation in the 10-team World Cup where it’s a round-robin league to determine the semifinalists.
This CWC squad lacks consistency and the entire team lacks experience when it comes to playing the World Cup. However, they do have a few promising youngsters who can turn things around for them and the team will be hoping that these youngsters perform to their full potential and at least help them reach the semis.
Odds heavily stacked against them, the Lankans will look for inspiration from the duo of Mathews and Malinga. Removed from captaincy, Malinga would look to prove a point being the best bowler of the country as he will be their key man in the bowling. By delivering a clinical last over to win the Indian T20 League for Mumbai recently, the 35-year-old showed why he still ranks among the best in business as far as death bowling is concerned. Two of his three hat-tricks have come in the World Cup and Malinga would once again look to make an impact if they are to make the semifinals.
Former captain Mathews will hope that he remains injury-free and play the role of a finisher besides providing breakthroughs with his medium pace bowling. Sri Lanka will also expect Thisara Perera to shine with his all-round ability. He is their highest run-getter in ODIs and only second to Malinga in terms of wickets.
Apart from these players, Sri Lanka lack experience. Lahiru Thirimanne, Milinda Siriwardana, Jeevan Mendis and Jeffrey Vandersay have not played ODIs for long. Behind the stumps too, Sri Lanka appear depleted with Kusal Perera and Kusal Mendis earmarked for duty when both players don’t even keep wickets at the domestic level.
SRI LANKA AT THE WORLD CUP
Sri Lanka have been one of the more consistent teams at the World Cup. They made it to the final four five times, reaching the final thrice and winning it once. This year, the semifinalists of 2015 have a lot to live up to.
The golden era of Sri Lanka cricket came to an end with the departure of legends like Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath. They were the backbone of Sri Lankan cricket and clearly the reason why the team reached two consecutive World Cup finals. Sri Lankan cricket has somehow not been able to find replacements for these legends.
Played – 73 | Won – 35 | Lost – 35 | Tied/No Result – 3 | Win percentage – 50%
1975 – out in group stage 1979 – out in group stage 1983 – out in group stage 1987 – out in group stage 1992 – out in group stage 1996 – Champions 1999 – out in group stage 2003 – semi final 2007 – runner up 2011 – runner up 2015 – quarter final
– Sri Lanka’s highest total at the World Cup came during the 1996 edition, when they blasted 398 for 5 against Kenya in Kandy. Aravinda de Silva led the charge with 145 off 115 balls
– Their lowest total was registered against the West Indies in the very first World Cup of 1975, when Sri Lanka were shot out for 86 against the West Indies with Bernard Julien claiming 4/20
– Kumar Sangakkara is Sri Lanka’s leading-run getter in the World Cup with 1532 runs. Sangakkara played four World Cups, making his debut in 2003 and went on to surpass the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who tally 1165 and 1112 runs respectively
– Sangakkara also holds the record for the highest average. With eight not outs, Sangakkara averages 56.74, ahead of Dilshan and Sri Lanka’s former World Cup winning captain, Arjuna Ranatunga
– A factors behind that average also boils down the number of centuries Sangakkara has at cricket’s biggest tournament. In four World Cups, Sangakkara has five centuries, four of which came on the trot during the 2015 World Cup which ensured Sri Lanka made it to the semifinal
– Dilshan, who is Sri Lanka’s third-highest run-getter holds the record for the Sri Lanka’s highest individual score at the World Cup. His unbeaten 161 against Bangladesh arrived during the 2015 World Cup in Melbourne, where Dilshan hammered 22 fours at a strike rate of 110. Sri Lanka went on to beat Bangladesh comprehensively by 92 runs
– Former captain Angelo Mathews has the highest-strike rate among all Sri Lankan players. Mathews hasn’t really set the World Cup on fire, with just 289 runs from 10 innings, but those runs have come at a SR of 94.13, ahead of Dilshan, Jayasuriya and Sangakkara
– Sangakkara and Ranatunga have the maximum half-centuries for Sri Lanka, 7. However, in terms of the most 50-plus scores in the World Cup, the wicket-keeper batsman leads the chart with 12 such scores, three more than the next in line Mahela Jayawardene, who tallies 9
– He may have led Sri Lanka to their only World Cup triumph in 1996, but Ranatunga wasn’t always the best with the bat. He has the maximum of ducks for his country at the World Cup and ties the record with Jayawardene. Jayawardene however has four hundreds, while Ranatunga has not reached the three-figure mark even once
– When it comes to the most sixes hit, the honour goes to the “Matara Mauler”, Jayasuriya. Jayasuriya has smoked 27 sixes, miles ahead of the next in line, de Silva, who has 15 sixes. Jayasuriya has also hit the most sixes in a World Cup innings by a Sri Lankan, when he tonked seven sixes against Bangladesh at Port of Spain in 2007
– Jayasuriya has also taken the highest number of catches by a Sri Lanka cricketer in a World Cup, 18
– Jayawardene has the most runs in a single edition of the World Cup for Sri Lanka. He scored 548 runs at an average of 60.88, with one century and four fifties during the 2007 edition and played a key role in Sri Lanka reaching the final in the West Indies
– Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan have played the most World Cup matches for Sri Lanka – 40. Both played five World Cups for their country
– Dilshan and Upul Tharanga hold the record for Sri Lanka’ highest partnership for any wicket in the World Cup. They put on 282 runs in Pallekele against Zimbabwe in 2011 as Sri Lanka romped home by 139 runs, Dilshan was adjudged Player of the Match for his knock of 144
– With 68 scalps, Muralitharan is Sri Lanka’s leading wicket-taker, ahead of Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga, who have 49 and 43 wickets respectively.
– Vaas, however, has produced the best bowling figures in an innings by a Sri Lankan. His 6 for 25 against Bangladesh in 2003 gave Sri Lanka a comfortable 10-wicket win with 173 balls to spare.
– Sangakkara has affected the most dismissals by a Sri Lankan wicketkeeper in the World Cup. In 37 matches, Sangakkara has taken 41 catches and affected 13 stumpings. The next in line in Romesh Kaluwitharana, who is miles behind with 12 dismissals
– Ashantha de Mel, the former fast bowler has two five-wicket hauls for Sri Lanka in a World Cup. Malinga and Vaas are the only other two bowlers to have taken a five-for for Sri Lanka in the history of the World Cup
Sri Lanka have made the knockouts every time since 2003 but looking at the present scenario it will be a miracle of sorts if they make the last-four stage this time.
The Karunaratne-led side will begin their campaign against New Zealand on June 1.
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