On Monday night, twenty million Sri Lankan cricket fans went to bed thinking it was a bad dream that their team had crashed out of the Asia Cup in the first round. A proud cricketing nation that had reached the finals of Asia Cup on all occasions except twice had been humbled by unheralded Afghanistan. It was their first ever defeat to Afghanistan and the Sri Lankans will return home even before India begin their campaign in the six-nation competition
Sri Lanka were awful in both their games. They lost their curtain-raiser to Bangladesh by 137 runs before crashing to a 91-run defeat at the hands of the Afghans. Angelo Mathews’ side made a paltry 124 against Bangladesh and 158 against Afghanistan, their lowest against both oppositions. Such spineless batting you had never seen from a Sri Lankan side. In both games, not a single batsman managed to score a half-century.
In the history of the Asia Cup, only two batsmen have scored more than 1,000 runs. Both of them are Sri Lankans — Sanath Jayasuriya (1,220) and Kumar Sangakkara (1,075). It is a pity that the current team is a pale shadow of its former self. Not that this team is short on experience. Both Upul Tharanga and Angelo Mathews have featured in more than 200 ODIs each.
Batting is not Sri Lanka’s only weak link. They have the worst fielding team in the world and let Bangladesh off the hook in the first game with four dropped catches. In the second game, they gave away more than 30 runs with mis-fields.
The return of Lasith Malinga after being on the sidelines for more than a year augured well for the Sri Lankans as he looked fitter and hungrier. Apart from him and off-spinner Akila Dananjaya, the rest of the Sri Lankan bowling looks below-par. The least said about their running between the wickets the better it is.
Sri Lankans will return home to harsher realities. Team manager Charith Senanayake summed up the mood in the camp. “Perhaps the hardest bus ride ever. Our return to Dubai from Abu Dhabi was extremely unpleasant and absolute torture. No words to express the feeling inside. Guess the return back home (will be) even worse,” the former opener said.
The Sri Lankans have only themselves to blame. To start with, they selected the wrong team. Test captain Dinesh Chandimal’s role in the ODI side is to bat through the 50 overs. When he was injured a week before the team departed to Dubai for the Asia Cup campaign, Sri Lanka should have included a batsman with similar traits. Perhaps, prolific Test opener Dimuth Karunaratne. But they chose to ignore, heavily relying on too many half-baked all-rounders.
It is the same policy that England followed in 1990s and faced hard times in shorter formats of the game. All three all-rounders in the squad — Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka and Shehan Jayasuriya featured in the competition. At most, only two of them should have played.
Despite fielding already a concern, they opted to pick 36-year-old Dilruwan Perera, perhaps one of the slowest movers in world cricket, to make a comeback in shorter format of the game. It proved to be a disaster with him putting down the simplest of chances. Mushfiqur Rahim was ten when he was dropped and he went on to post 144, the second-best score by a Bangladeshi in ODI cricket.
With the World Cup not too far away, the Sri Lankans need to take some harsh decisions. Angelo Mathews has been unimpressive. A captain has to lead from front but Mathews has failed miserably.
Perhaps handing over the reins to Test captain Dinesh Chandimal is an option, but he too didn’t cover himself with glory in the West Indies where he was caught on the camera ball tampering and then holding up play for more than two hours demanding match officials to show him evidence. He received a seven match suspension.
Upul Tharanga perhaps has played his last game having managed just one fifty in his last 22 games. Sadeera Samarawickrama, an attacking top-order batsman who toured India last year and impressed former great VVS Laxman, perhaps need to be drafted into the side.
Successful Sri Lankan teams over the years struck to a seven-four combination. Two of the seven batsmen could bowl and perhaps it is time to revert back to that combination.
Leave alone qualifying for the second round, the Sri Lankans have failed to show any competitiveness in the competition. Unless they bite the bullet and make some harsh decisions their struggles will continue.