Sri Lanka are no longer the force they were in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. With the flamboyance of Sanath Jayasuriya, the stability of Mahela Jayawardene, the guile of Aravinda de Silva, the elegance of Kumar Sangakkara, the wile of Muttiah Muralitharan and the tact of Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka used to regularly knock big teams down and were a major force to reckon with in ICC tournaments.
All of that took a backseat after the retirements of few of their premier players and the current line-up is struggling to live up to the reputation created by their predecessors. A 5-0 ODI whitewash in the hands of India on home soil further underlined their lamentable performance.
There is a clear lack of direction in this Sri Lankan outfit, with a huge question mark hovering over everything, from the selectors, the captain to the strike bowler. They lack experience and guidance and were sorely found wanting in most departments during the five-match ODI series. With a return tour scheduled later this year, Sri Lanka need to motivate and push themselves up from the rubble.
There are concerns around fitness, form and selections at the moment. They were completely undone, disintegrated and bossed around by the Indian leviathan and failed to offer even a bit of resistance.
But are they done and dusted? Where is the Sri Lanka that dominated World Cups till a few years back? Where has their talent pool vanished? Do they have any hope at all?
Several questions stare upon the Sri Lankans at the moment. But on close inspection, one can see that Sri Lanka's major problems stem from inconsistent selections, lacklustre administration and a poor domestic structure. They do have a fine talent pool but these players haven't received the kind of confidence or backing from their coach, selectors or captain.
“When players start to realise that they are protected by their captain, looked after by their captain, they will give their best. If they are not sure, that’s where the concerns start. And I always felt that younger players needed to be protected; give confidence to them so that they could go for a longer period. That’s what I did and I was lucky to have some selectors who could understand the game and players’ mentality”, Arjuna Ranatunga had mentioned in an interview on The Indian Express.
Sri Lanka sorely miss a true leader. They bitterly miss the experience at the top of the line-up which Tillakaratne Dilshan provided till about a year ago. They are hunting around for dependable middle-order batsmen. They are doing their best to rejuvenate a struggling Lasith Malinga to do what he does best — take wickets.
But they have failed, and miserably.
It is not that this line-up does not have its strengths. They just need to dig deep into their strengths, trust a few individuals to take them forward and stick by them and create a core group of players for all conditions.
They need to sit back, relax and think about how they are going to utilise their strengths to suppress their projecting weaknesses.
— Sri Lanka do not have a dependable middle-order. The belly portion of their batting line-up is a huge mountain of crap made fragrant by the presence of Angelo Mathews. He is the fulcrum of this Sri Lankan batting line-up and with captaincy off his shoulders, needs to guide the young unit. His support will come in the form of Lahiru Thirimanne, who made a strong return to the squad, Dinesh Chandimal, who should have been stuck with in the first place and Asela Gunaratne, when he returns from injury. From No 4 and below, Sri Lanka do have a decent middle-order but lack self-belief. There has been far too many rotations in the squad and nobody has been able to settle down in their respective positions. It is upto the new selection panel to instill confidence in a select set of players in the middle-order.
— The openers more often than not try to dominate from the onset. Both Niroshan Dickwella and Upul Tharanga has been guilty of starting off with a bang only to fall in the 30s and create an opening for opposition bowlers to work on. Tharanga, with his experience, should ideally be able to don the role of a mentor to Dickwella. Kusal Perera, the flamboyant wicketkeeper-batsman, can also be utilised to give them a fiery start. That said, all three need to improve their temperament. The 1996 World Cup winners do have a good set of openers, but their weakness has been the manner in which they throw their wickets away after a good start.
— Kusal Mendis, the young and dynamic No 3 is undoubtedly Sri Lanka's future and their key to glory in the next few years. A fine batsman with a wide array of strokes, Mendis needs to be backed by all means. He is supremely talented and once he gets into his groove can match the best of batsmen shot for shot. He, however, had a deplorable series against the Indians owing to lack of self belief and guidance. Mendis is Sri Lanka's biggest strength but they need to give him the freedom and backing to perform. He can work wonders with the willow in hand. Possibly, a move to No 4 till he regains his golden touch would serve Sri Lanka well.
— The young Akila Dananjaya showed that Sri Lanka still unearth mystery spinners out of nowhere. He completely befuddled the Indian batsmen with his variations in the ODI series and Sri Lanka need to stick by such game-changers. That he completely vanished from the scene after his 2012 World T20 appearance is in itself a shame to Sri Lanka's haphazard domestic structure. They now need to give the likes of Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan and Wanidu Hasaranga enough opportunities to thrive on the big stage.
— The pace bowling unit has talented bowlers in Dushmantha Chameera, who regularly clocked high numbers in the speed gun and Vishwa Fernando, who bowled good-looking spells in short bursts. But both are no leaders, and with Malinga struggling to maintain any kind of rhythm, Sri Lanka miss a fast bowler who can alter the momentum of the match. They need to identify and stick by a group of five-six fast bowlers and groom them before the 2019 World Cup. The likes of Vikum Sanjaya, Lahiru Madushanka, Dasun Shanaka, Lahiru Kumara and Nuwan Pradeep need to be given more games. Fitness is also a major concern with the seam bowlers and raising the levels of ‘cricket fitness’ in the side will also be of utmost priority.
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