It was Sri Lanka’s batting that flopped during their 10-wicket mauling at the hands of New Zealand in their World Cup opener in the Welsh capital of Cardiff on Saturday. But the manner in which the Kiwis chased down the 137-run target told a story as openers Colin Munro and Martin Guptill toyed with the bowling and New Zealand won with plenty of over to spare.
The batsmen were just stepping out of the crease as if playing spin and carted the seam bowlers to all corners of Sophia Gardens. Sri Lanka’s seamers were simply unable to pin the batsmen on the back foot.
Playing Suranga Lakmal and Isuru Udana, who were clocking 130s, was child’s play for the two opening batsmen. Lasith Malinga, no doubt, has a trick or two up his sleeve, but he needs runs to bowl at. There’s no way that he could have come up with a plan to contain 137.
That is why Sri Lanka could have been better off with extra pace. Not many cricket enthusiasts in Sri Lanka agree with the selections done for the World Cup. How can you have five players in the World Cup squad who had not featured in an ODI for more than 18 months?
The problem with the World Cup squad selection was that the coaching staff and the national selection panel were at loggerheads when it came to personnel who should come into the squad. They were pulling in different directions. The selectors took Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha’s input with a pinch of salt.
Hathurusingha knows his onions and has tasted success with all his undertaking whether it be New South Wales, Sydney Thunder or Bangladesh. He should have been given free rein and then held accountable if the team failed to make an impact.
When he took up the Sri Lankan job in January last year, his prime focus was the World Cup and he emphasised on pace a lot. In this day and age, where teams are talking of breaking the 500-run barrier, he felt that outright pace was the only answer to get away with an onslaught.
So he went in search of fresh talent and stumbled upon Shehan Madushanka. The little heard 21-year-old could generate serious pace and was fast-tracked into the senior side. On his maiden tour with the Sri Lankan side for a tri-nation series in Bangladesh, Hathurusingha didn’t use him for group stage matches and suddenly brought him for the final. His pace was too much for Bangladesh batsmen ass Madushanka claimed a hat-trick on debut. A new star was born, we thought.
He was in the Head Coach’s World Cup plans, but wasn’t given a proper run by the selectors ahead of the tournament simply because the young prodigy had been hand-picked by Hathurusingha. He had not come through the system some argued. Petty minds in big places.
There is an ‘A’ team series going on between Sri Lanka and India at the moment. Some of the players who should be in England are in India. Niroshan Dickwella is one of them and Lahiru Kumara is another. Kumara is the best fast bowling talent to emerge from Sri Lanka in recent times.
As a 19-year-old, he claimed six wickets in an innings in Cape Town and matched Kagiso Rabada when it came to pace although he was erratic, unlike Rabada. Kumara possessed all skills a competent fast bowler should have, a bouncer, an out-swinger and a well disguised slower ball that what to be the undoing of many famous batsmen.
He did struggle with injuries though but was fit by the time the World Cup selections came. He was another player requested by the coaching staff for the World Cup but instead, they were given three spinning all-rounders. When it comes to spin, Sri Lanka have all bases covered — right-arm off-spin, left-arm orthodox spin, and leg-spin. They will soon find out that spin will play little role in England at this time of the year, particularly with most of their games up north. Carrying that many spinning options to Durham and Leeds, where they will be mostly based, is like carrying coals to Newcastle.
Dushmantha Chameera is the other quick to miss out. Chameera played the last World Cup too and has some experience. Unlike Kumara or Madushanka, he is usually on the money when it comes to accuracy. Importantly, he has pace that could force the batsmen on the back foot.
In Cardiff, the Sri Lankan attack was unable to put the batsmen on a defensive mindset. Instead of sending the batters on the back foot, they grinned and watched the Kiwis giving them the charge. Modern-day batsmen are brought up on an overdose of T20 cricket. They look for improvisation to purchase their runs. Gentle medium-pace is not going to stop audacious stroke makers who excel at risk-taking. You need pace. Raw pace. And Sri Lanka have none of it. That’s one reason why teams are talking of breaking the 500-run barrier.