Dinesh Chandimal has scored five half-centuries in his last six matches. One more fifty and the Sri Lankan vice-captain could have become the first Sri Lankan to score six successive fifties in ODI cricket. However, how effective are his half centuries, especially considering the fact that none of his five fifties has brought Sri Lanka a win?
Before proceeding further, it should be noted that this article is not only an appraisal on Chandimal’s batting in the recent few matches, but it is also an assessment of the batting strategies Sri Lanka has employed, for a strong influence of strategies could be observed on the way Chandimal has batted.
Although a rare feat like scoring five consecutive fifties often merit premium laurels, the inefficacy of such a feat lays bare a bigger problem. Chandimal, in his last four ODIs, in which Sri Lanka has batted first, has scored 52 off 86 balls, 62 off 77 balls, 63 off 51 balls and 80 off 118 balls, averaging 85.6 while striking at 77.4.
Chandimal’s strike rate diametrically reflects Sri Lanka’s batting efforts in all of the last four matches in which Sri Lanka has batted first. Sri Lanka mustered 254,248,305 and 227 the last four times they batted first. Though the last one came on a tough surface, the first three came on absolute belters. While the 305 runs Sri Lanka scored in 42 overs look far better than what they have scored in recent times, England hunting that total down with relative ease evinces that it was below par too.
Are Chandimal’s stymieing innings the reason for Sri Lanka’s suffocating batting performances? Or is he a mere fall guy for the rest of the batsmen’s ineptness? Are Chandimal’s innings a part of the team’s plan?
Chandimal’s innings have played a hand in Sri Lanka’s struggles
Even though Chandimal’s 80 off 118 came on a slow Premadasa pitch, on the flat decks of England, the Sri Lankan vice-captain could rake in runs only at a ridiculously slow strike rate.
Against Ireland in the first ODI at Malahide, Chandimal came to the crease during the 10th over when the team was 2 down for 47 runs, and batted through the innings scoring 100 off 107 balls. Chandimal brought his 50 off 73 balls on a good pitch as the team dawdled at the rate of around 4.7 between his arrival and Kusal Mendis’s dismissal during the 27th over. Though Sri Lanka had lost only two wickets at the mid-way mark, the team barely scraped a total in excess of 300, which too would have become impossible had it not been for Dasun Shanaka’s belligerent 42 runs off 19 balls. Chandimal’s last 50 runs came off just 34 balls, but that wasn’t enough to atone for his slow scoring for his first fifty. Even though during the death overs Chandimal was well-settled, he failed to accelerate towards the end. 303 may have been adequate for Sri Lanka to win the match, but against a better batting side, they would have found themselves at least 30 runs short.
In the ODI series against England, barring the 4th ODI which was a 42 over affair, and the fifth ODI in which Sri Lanka chased, Chandimal got off to a slow start and got out between the 30th and 40th over trying to press on the accelerator. Even in the 4th match, despite a solid platform being laid for the batsmen to follow with 158 runs being scored in 23.2 overs at 6.77 runs per over, Chandimal along with Angelo Mathews failed to capitalize on it as they could score only at 6.52 runs an over. Although this would have been fine in the context of a 50-over game, in a 42-over game, it was not enough, as the eventual result proved.
The above average runs-per-over graph of Sri Lanka is for the last eight ODIs, excluding the 2nd ODI against Ireland, in which Seekuge Prasanna was promoted up the order, the 4th ODI against England, which was truncated to 42 overs and the 5th ODI during which Sri Lanka chased. On average, Chandimal walked to the creased during the 9th over and stayed in the middle until the 41st over, which are demarcated by the two vertical lines.
A clear slump in the run rate could be observed during the period Chandimal occupied the crease. During all these matches, Chandimal played out 204 dot balls out of the 444 balls he faced, which accounts for 45.95% of all balls he faced. Only 4 times during his innings did he manage to find the fence, on average. This clearly elucidates the fact that Chandimal has played too many dot balls and has failed to compensate for it.
His innings have not only sapped the momentum from Sri Lanka’s innings, they have also allowed opposition bowlers to settle in, while at times letting the opposition captain get away bowling his less preferred bowlers without copping much damage.
The team has been responsible for Chandimal’s slow innings too
It would be unfair to saddle Dinesh Chandimal with the blame entirely. Part of the blame should certainly go to the openers who haven’t given Chandimal the platform to bat the way he might love to. Since the last World Cup, Sri Lankan openers have averaged a paltry 34.97. Only the West Indies has done worse during this period. The average further drops down to 25.65 since the beginning of this year.
On average, the Sri Lankan opening partnership has lasted only 5.36 overs this year, which is the third worst returns for a team. The second wicket partnership has not done well either, averaging 7 overs, which is trifling in comparison to what other teams have managed to scrounge.
Even during the matches of our interest, the first two Sri Lankan wickets fell before the 9th over on average. Walking in early during the first powerplay with his shoulder burdened with the responsibility of rebuilding the innings, it should be admitted that Chandimal was trussed by the circumstances.
The lower order too has been run of the mill with number 6 and 7 averaging 30.53, the third lowest this year, and 20.5 respectively. The fifth wicket partnership has lasted only 3.15 overs on average since the beginning of this year while the sixth partnership has averaged a decent 5.5 overs. Nonetheless, they have been inadequate to make any use of the platform, however, fragile it was, Chandimal managed to lay down.
The team management seems not to have taken the role of a number six and seven seriously as they have often indulged themselves in sending a blind slogger like Seekuge Prasanna at six and an accumulator like Tharanga at seven during the ODI series against England. Dasun Shanaka, one of the very few cleanest strikers in Sri Lanka, was dropped from the squad for the Australian series, making the lower order a place fret with confusion. The management keeps playing roulette among various players as diverse as Upul Tharanga, Milinda Siriwardena, and Dhananjaya de Silva which has resulted in the lower order becoming capricious.
It could be argued that, perhaps, with a better pair of openers and a decent lower order, Chandimal’s innings would not have been made to look as bad as they do.
It could be a part of the team ploy
From the looks of it, it seems as if the top three in the Sri Lankan batting lineup have been allowed to bat freely with Chandimal’s role being arresting a collapse if there is going to be one and steadying the ship henceforth. So it could be argued that Chandimal’s innings are more of a result of a decree from the authority than because of his inability.
Since the end of the 2015 World Cup, Sri Lanka’s number four has struck at the rate of 76.18, which is the lowest with the second lowest being a distant 84.89. These numbers along with the way Angelo Mathews batted during the ODI series in England, which, truth be told, was not too different to the way the vice-captain bats, manifests the notion that it could be a team ploy.
Chandimal should cop a part of the blame
Although it is quite evident that the team has had its role to play in making Chandimal’s innings look awful, the man himself has been responsible to an extent for the blames he has managed to charm. Appreciable performances from the lower order could have helped Sri Lanka get to a score close to 300 in England, which by the modern standards is just about par, but to be a competitive side in world cricket, Sri Lanka should be able to score well in excess of 300 on good batting surfaces.
Such has been the sluggishness of Chandimal’s innings in England, that even when the lower order performed well, Sri Lanka was forced to settle in for a mediocre score. In the first ODI against Ireland, despite Dasun Shanaka stroking a 19 ball 42, Sri Lanka could only get to 303, which would have been insufficient against a better side.
In the 4th ODI against England too, Chandimal struggled to accelerate from a platform the top order had set him. Even when he managed to bat through the innings, his acceleration was proved to be piddling. Chandimal’s presence after the 30th over has also put undue pressure on batsmen at the other end as they have often perished trying to make up for the dot balls Chandimal plays . When a well-settled batsman is expected to ease pressure off a newcomer, only the contrary has come to fruition thus far.
Sri Lanka believes that it could be a force to be reckoned with in ODI cricket by getting close to that 300 mark, which has resulted in the team trying to bat out the middle overs in an attempt to save wickets for the end so that the lower order can capitalize during the death overs. In the face of the team batting deep, Sri Lanka has many a times failed to utilize the depth of their batting lineup by squashing in the lower order through a window as tiny as 10 overs.
There is a reason why ICC experiments with rule changes frequently in ODIs- that is to make sure the middle overs are not lackadaisical. The governing body wants batsmen to not to drop the rate of scoring during the middle overs. With five fielders being allowed outside the ring during the last powerplay, ICC has almost forced teams to look for as many runs as possible during the middle overs. Sri Lanka has failed to discern this paradigm shift. In 2016, either the meaning of anchoring an innings has changed or it has become completely redundant.
A team that scores consistently around six runs per over, with a slight push towards the end can heave themselves to a score closer to 300. But since Sri Lanka dallies around 4.5 runs per over during the middle overs, even a giant leap, which seldom materializes, can hardly get them over 300.
There are two resources in ODIs: balls and wickets. In an attempt to save one resource, i.e, wickets, Sri Lanka is squandering the other. ODI batting is no more only about occupying the crease but it is also about scoring runs.
Sri Lanka often has basked in the ‘stabilizing’ phase for too long that it has left the acceleration to too late. It is only after the 40th over Sri Lanka tries to go hard, but as time and time again they have been shown, it is too late.
A possible solution
Expecting a number four batsman to play the role of an anchor is preposterous, especially since he is expected to bat well past the 30th over. Sri Lanka cannot afford to take too long set the platform for the rest of the batsmen. So, if anyone is to be the anchor of the team, then he should be the number three batsman. This would mean that the process of laying down a platform would be complete by the 30th over and the rest of the batsmen can launch from it during the last 20 overs.
Kusal Mendis’s deftness in cahoots with his ability to find boundaries sans risk might make him an ideal anchor. He can be expected to bat through without diminishing his scoring rate. This would mean that Chandimal could be allowed to play his natural game at number four. But the bohemian way in which Chandimal bats could make him inconsistent albeit turning him into a match winner. Should Chandimal trade consistency for belligerence? Or should Sri Lanka look at the prospect of having a new batsman at number four who can score runs faster without many risks?
Chandimal is an experienced player. Hence, dropping him is clearly out of the equation. Playing another youngster would turn the team into a nursery and that might come haunting during decisive moments.
Chandimal lacks the brutal power required to clear the ropes on a consistent basis. Unlike other orthodox batsmen, Chandimal lacks the finesse. His predilection for hitting the ball hard and his relative inability to pick gaps with ease and manipulate the field have made it difficult for him to accelerate once settled. He has his own ways of scoring runs, but those come at a hefty price and hence, having him bat past the 30th over has become Sri Lanka’s undoing.
Kusal Mendis has a wider range of shots than Chandimal and the youngster’s ability to place the ball precisely and diligently pick the right parts of the ground to hit may help him accelerate better than Chandimal after the 30th over. So a probable solution would be is to promote Chandimal to number three and demote Kusal Mendis to number four.
In that way, Chandimal can consolidate during the first 30 overs while leaving the last 20 overs to the rest of the batsmen to proliferate the runs. Even then, Chandimal will have to improve his ability to rotate the strike for too many dot balls played would mean that even a brilliant effort during the last 20 can only barely take a team to 300.
In the first ODI against Australia, the team’s failure was not due to Chandimal’s innings so much as due to the middle order collapse. On slow, sluggish surfaces Chandimal’s way of batting could seem ideal. But on flat decks as the ones Sri Lanka came across in England, it could very well be Sri Lanka’s nemesis.
It is not Chandimal’s fault that the team has struggled with the bat in recent times. But the truth is that he is a much better player than what his returns suggest. The right-hander is delivering what is expected of him, but the reality is that the way the team uses its vice-captain has been one of the chief reasons for its recent batting debacles. Sri Lanka must realize that their approach to ODI batting is at least
*This article was written before the 2nd ODI