Sri Lanka look to bounce back after horror start
Coming into the World Cup, Sri Lanka Skipper Dasun Shanaka had hoped that the 2023 Asia Cup finalists would put on a strong show in Indian soil. What transpired during the last couple of weeks were three heartbreaking defeats and him, Shanaka, out of the tournament with an injury.
This has put Sri Lanka’s World Cup campaign on the line as they take on giant-killers Netherlands in their fourth match of the ICC Men’s World Cup in Lucknow tomorrow (21).
And if they are to turn a corner, albeit late, they must beat The Netherlands and win the rest of their matches against, England, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and New Zealand to have some hope of earning one of the four semi-final spots.
This is a daunting task for the 1996 World Champions whose reputation has taken a severe beating since 2016 due to injuries, selection blunders, interferences and unprofessional management of affairs at the country’s richest sports body.
Sri Lanka’s three straight defeats at the hands of South Africa, Pakistan and Australia have left them in a perilous position in this tournament while The Netherlands’ spirited win over South Africa has given the men in orange much needed morale-boost ahead of the clash of the bottom rankers. The Netherlands are ranked ninth with one win while Sri Lanka sits on the last rung.
Sri Lanka crushed the Dutch well and truly when the two met last in the World Cup Qualifier final in Zimbabwe. Still, circumstances have changed with Sri Lanka’s confidence taking a huge beating due to back-to-back defeats.
With two of the strike bowlers (Wanindu Hasaranga and Dushmantha Chameera) ruled out, Sri Lanka’s bowling looked the weakest in the tournament. While they had been expected to go through a tough time in the middle, its batting unit was expected to hold the fort.
Against Australia, however, a middle-order collapse took the centre stage, so much so that the selectors were forced to consider Angelo Mathews as a travelling reserve. But the all-rounder getting drafted into the 15-man squad has been delayed with the team management yet to make a decision on injured seamer Matheesha Pathirana’s future in the tournament.
If cleared, Mathews will replace misfiring Dhananjaya de Silva in the playing XI, an option the team management would like to consider ahead of their next game against England in Bengaluru, in case Mathews breaks into the squad.
The team’s middle-order woes are significant with de Silva and former Skipper Shanaka failing to put the finishing touches to the innings. The call to bring Mathews into the squad had, in fact, come earlier but fell on deaf ears as the selectors kept faith in de Silva and Shanaka.
“I have to accept that we’ve got a problem with the middle order, especially at No. 6 and 7 since the Qualifiers in Zimbabwe,” admitted Naveed Nawaz, Sri Lanka’s Batting Coach in the pre-match media conference at the Ekana Stadium last afternoon.
“I do not know what went on in the selectors’ minds as I was not involved with the selection process but there’s no denial that we have a problem in our middle order.”
Sri Lanka may even field the same playing XI that played Australia on Monday with the exception of Kasun Rajitha coming in for pacer Lahiru Kumara. Kumara, while he has the pace, lacked bowling discipline as he fed the Australians with lollies to feast on with his four overs conceding 47 runs.
Nawaz admitted the Sri Lankans are under pressure, going into a crucial game that would decide the future of his team.
“Obviously, we haven’t got any points on the table and there’s a bit of pressure. We have been performing well on and off, but we are yet to win a tidy game. We have addressed issues with the new captain and have trained in the last couple of days. I think the group is positive and we are looking forward to the game,” Nawaz said, with optimism.
Admitting that Sri Lanka’s bowling is an issue as they lacked experience he said there’s still room for the young bowlers to learn along the way.
“But we are playing with a really young group of bowlers, so they are bound to make mistakes,” he said.
“The way forward is how we can learn from the mistakes and move forward. It’s a long tournament, it’s a nine-game tournament we are playing. So, I think the players have room to learn and improve their capabilities, because we’ve got a very capable group, no doubt, and the tournament is long enough for them to learn from their mistakes and move forward. So, we are still hopeful to play a tidy game tomorrow and to see our chances moving forward.”
The Dutch batter Teja Nidamanuru, speaking to the media, said that the mood in the camp was calm despite their historic win over South Africa in the previous game.
“The mood in the camp I think the word that I would like to use is ‘calm’. Obviously, we’re excited after the game and we celebrated it and we sat around and had a good conversation about the game,” he said.
“But we’ve come to the World Cup with a goal in our mind and I think our focus sort of quickly shifted to, okay, well, what’s next and can we prepare? So, we travelled, we trained, we trained yesterday, we trained today and obviously we’re ready to go for tomorrow morning.”
“The mood is calm and quiet. A few of the guys are very determined because we lost twice to them (Sri Lanka) at the Qualifiers and it’s something that we want to put right for ourselves within our group.” (Champika Fernando in Lucknow)
- Sri Lanka (Probable XI): Kusal Perera, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis (Captain-W/K), Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Chamika Karunaratne, Dunith Wellalage, Maheesh Theekshana, Kasun Rajitha and Dilshan Madushanka.
- Netherlands (Probable XI): Vikramjit Singh, Max O’Dowd, Colin Ackermann, Bas de Leede, Teja Nidamanuru, Scott Edwards (Captain-W/K), Sybrand Engelbrecht, Logan van Beek, Roelof van der Merwe, Aryan Dutt and Paul van Meekeren.