Sri Lanka starts ICC Champions Trophy 2017 as clear underdogs. Their record in ODI format since the start of 2016 reads 15 losses and 7 wins. This includes a 5-0 whitewash in South Africa and 4-1 series loss at home against Australia. The team’s morale would be further dented after losing to Scotland in an unofficial ODI in the lead up to the tournament. They also lost both their practice matches after scoring 300 plus on both occasions batting first.
The team will be buoyed by the comeback of Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga who have been mostly out of action in the last year due to injuries. Mathews will have fond memories of England where he led his side to a memorable Test series victory in 2014 when no one gave them a chance. He will be the mainstay of this batting line-up and can be a useful bowler in England, especially in overcast conditions.
Leading the batting line-up in terms of experience is Upul Tharanga, the veteran Sri Lankan who was matching legendary Sanath Jayasurya stroke to stroke when he started at international level but has had a start-stop career in the last 12 years.
Young Kusal Mendis has established himself as a solid number three batsman after his match-turning 176 against Australia in a Test match last year. He top scored in Sri Lanka’s last series against Bangladesh where he scored his maiden ODI hundred.
In what promises to be a high-scoring tournament, Sri Lanka will be hoping for their flamboyant young batsmen like Niroshan Dickwella and Dinesh Chandimal to come good. When you add the big hitting Thisara Perera to this lineup, there is no shortage of that natural Sri Lankan flair with the bat that has made this team so attractive to watch over the years.
The bowling department will be led by Malinga who gave glimpses of his class in this year’s IPL final. When fully fit, there still isn’t a better death bowler in world cricket right now. The seam bowling department is probably Sri Lanka’s biggest weakness. Nuwan Kulasekara has been around for a while and will spearhead the attack with Malinga. Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal complete the lackluster seam bowling department.
Spin has traditionally been Sri Lanka’s strength but this is probably the Lions' most inexperienced spin bowling attack in an ICC tournament. Still, they will look to Seekkuge Prasanna and Lakshan Sandakan to provide them those crucial breakthroughs in the middle overs.
Overall Sri Lanka looks like a team that will heavily rely on it’s batting to win them matches. That’s not always a bad position to be in as a team in one-day matches. They will look to chase as often as possible and on their day are quite capable of chasing down 300 plus totals. Their best result in recent times came in the T20 series in Australia where, after a disappointing tour down under, they beat the hosts twice in T20s while chasing.
Sri Lanka has had a decent record in ICC tournaments in the last two decades. They have played three ICC World Cup finals and were joint winners of ICC Champions Trophy with India in 2002. The nature of the draw in Champions Trophy means that teams are facing near knock-out scenario every game. Being rated as an underdog allows them to play fearless cricket and prey on any nerves in the opponent camp.
Sri Lanka’s head coach Graham Ford said he is excited by the team’s batting talent and hopes he encounters some good batting wickets to put opposition bowling attacks under pressure. If they encounter pitches that suit them and win some important tosses then this team has the potential to cause a few upsets in the tournament.