Technically, Sri Lanka are still in with a chance to progress to the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup. But there are too many ifs and buts. Let’s be realistic. To put it plainly, Maithripala Sirisena has a better chance of winning a second term as the President in the elections later this year.
Even if Sri Lanka win their next two games against West Indies and unbeaten India, all that it takes is England to beat India to knock Sri Lanka out of the competition. Assuming that happens, both teams will be tied on ten points but England will go through having won more games than the former champions. Two of Sri Lanka’s games were washed out by rain.
Pakistan are also in the running and if they win both their games — against Afghanistan and Bangladesh — they are through provided England lose one of their remaining two games.
Something is not right with Sri Lanka’s white ball teams. They are still making an impact in Tests, having recently won a Test series in South Africa. But in ODIs, they have been awful. Soon after the Test series win, they were whitewashed by South Africa 5-0.
Sri Lanka had zeroed in on their World Cup selection by December. They had 18 names in mind and had to leave out three players. But the change of selection panel in December brought it all back to square one.
The captain was axed and outright changes were done to the formation of the squad and as a result, five players who had not featured in an ODI for 18 months were drafted in. Observers sounded a word of caution that this is going to be a disastrous campaign, but the pleas fell to deaf ears.
Apart from a hard-fought win against England, the rest of their campaign has been in shambles. You wonder whether the win over England was a flash in the pan. There is a good possibility that Sri Lanka could end up ninth in this tournament. It will be the first time since 1999 they have not made the knockouts.
Dinesh Chandimal, Dasun Shanaka, and Niroshan Dickwella were very much in Sri Lanka’s plans for the World Cup until April when all three were axed. Chandimal’s ability to hold the innings together, Shanaka’s power hitting and Dickwella’s fearless approach would have served the team well in the World Cup.
Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha and Chairman of Selectors Ashantha De Mel weren’t seeing eye to eye. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka Cricket appointed De Mel as team manager as well. SLC are the masters of divide and rule policy.
Leading up to the South Africa game, Sri Lanka badly felt the need to axe Jeewan Mendis, who has hardly had an impact in the campaign. His selection into the World Cup squad was a strange one as he had not played ODIs for more than four years. At the age of 36, he is one of the oldest players in the tournament.
Milinda Siriwardene and Lahiru Thirimanne are the other options that they have but both have had poor tournaments. They are among the players who were parachuted into the squad ahead of the World Cup.
South Africa have been all over Sri Lanka in recent years having won 16 of the last 18 games between the countries. But this was the perfect opportunity for Sri Lanka to overcome their nemesis. Without Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi, this South African attack is a pale shadow of its former self. Sri Lanka’s batters failed to cash in.
Too much self-doubt, lack of application and planning hurt them badly. Dimuth Karunaratne, the skipper, is the man who is expected to bat through the innings. Once he fell on the first ball of the game, none of the other batsmen was able to adjust and play through the innings.
The sad part is that all of them got starts but failed to capitalise. They played the cut shots to balls that were too close to the body and even tried to clear the 30-yard circle when the ball was not there for the shot. A target of 204 proved to be child’s play for the Proteas.
Spin is one area that Sri Lanka could have tested South Africa but they have left home their two best spinners, who featured frequently in the last two years. Akila Dananjaya’s off-spin and Lakshan Sandakan’s wrist-spin had brought the team decent success, but the selectors thought that they will be better off with Jeewan Mendis and Jeffrey Vandersay. Both have been hardly able to turn the ball during the World Cup and have not posted a threat.
Sri Lanka’s selectors have a lot of answering to do.