The lessons Sri Lanka can take from this World Cup to the next

Sri Lanka’s performance was along expected lines. Courtesy: Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s 2022 T20 World Cup campaign came to an expected end when Australia beat Afghanistan at Brisbane.  Save for the unexpected capitulation to Namibia, Sri Lanka’s campaign was largely along expected lines. Now that the sun has set on Sri Lanka’s campaign, let’s look at their performance, the positives they can carry forward, and how their next campaign should be planned.

For starters, we could not have expected the Sri Lankan batsmen to taste success in the vast outfields and fast pitches of Australia as they are not used to hitting high-end pace. So, I wouldn’t want to judge the batsmen too harshly for their performance, or lack thereof, in this World Cup unless it was an extrapolation of their previous record.

The batsmen who were hamstrung the most by the conditions were Dasun Shanaka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa as they averaged less than 20 while striking at less than 120, which was a far cry from their performance in the Asia Cup. However, given that the next World Cup will be played in the West Indies and the United States of America, where the conditions will be similar to the subcontinent, Sri Lanka should not sweat too much over them.

Kusal Mendis got Sri Lanka off to fliers consistently in the Asia Cup, but in the World Cup, he could strike only at 111.6 during the powerplay, even though his overall strike rate was an impressive 142.9.  However, he still had the best strike rate for a Sri Lankan batsman during the powerplay as both Pathum Nissanka and Dhananjaya de Silva struck only at 103.9 and 105.6 respectively.

There are two ways to look at this. Either Mendis looked to get himself in before accelerating, in which case he needs to be partnered with a powerplay enforcer, or conditions forced him to play defensively early on, in which case Sri Lanka need not worry as he can be expected to score the way he did in the Asia Cup during the powerplay in conducive conditions.

However, his strike rate of 169.3 at an average of 42.8 during the middle overs in T20Is since the beginning of the Asia Cup shows that his stay at the crease during the middle overs is essential for the team to ensure that they don’t slow down. This means that Sri Lanka would not want Kusal Mendis to get out during the powerplay taking gratuitous risks.

Kusal Mendis is Sri Lanka’s fastest scorer during the middle overs in recent times. Courtesy: ICC

This makes partnering Mendis with a powerplay enforcer all the more important. Nissanka’s strike rate of 102.9 during the powerplay tells you he is more of a burden than a foil for Mendis. Of the currently active batsmen, Niroshan Dickwella has the highest strike rate of 136.6 during the powerplay albeit at an average of 19.4. Kusal Perera has the second-highest strike rate of 134.3 but his average is an acceptable 28.9.

However, Dickwella had a torrid Caribbean Premiere League recently and his form with the bat in 2022 is anything but inspiring. With him fast approaching 30, Sri Lanka cannot afford to give him much time either. Perera, on the other hand, is already on the wrong side of 30 and it is not certain when he will return from his injury.

Performances in the LPL do not give many options either. Bhanuka Rajapaksa tops the list in the LPL with a strike rate of 166.7. Even though opening is the best position for him in T20Is, moving him up the order means the already powerless middle order will be rendered even more powerless. Dickwella comes second on the list with Danishka Gunathilaka at third. The latter’s career is virtually over, and we have already discussed the form of the former. Kusal Mendis has the next-best strike rate but, as we have already seen, we need him batting during the middle overs. Charith Asalanka is the next on the list but his strike rate of 138.1 is almost 14 less than that of Mendis. Avishka Fernando is another option but his inability to start fast and his travails against spin are well-known now.

This leaves Sri Lanka with little option, and they will have to experiment a bit and improvise a lot to find Mendis his ideal partner among Dickwella, Asalanka, and Kusal Perera. Sri Lanka also have the option of trying Kamindu Mendis, who struck at 167.8 in the Invitational T20 league in 2021, at the opening spot.

Moving to the number 3 spot, Dhananjaya de Silva had the second-best strike rate for a Sri Lankan batsman in the World Cup. His strike rate of 153.6 against off-spin and 156.2 against left-arm spin vouches for his ability to hit spin and Sri Lanka will need that in the West Indies. Sri Lanka will also need him to shield the left-handed batsmen in the middle order against off-spin. Club with that his canny off-spin, de Silva is already a vital member of Sri Lanka’s T20I setup.

After a match-winning knock in the Asia Cup final, Wanindu Hasaranga had a forgettable World Cup with the bat. Even though one could not have expected him to face pace in Australia with aplomb, his predisposition to move towards the leg side to free his arms on the offside has become too predictable now and made his struggles worse. This also prevents him from having a strong base to power the ball. He has not yet reified his potential with the bat and Sri Lanka would need him to work on his batting to increase the batting depth.

In the absence of Dushmantha Chameera and Dilshan Madushanka, Lahiru Kumara bowled to his potential, picking 7 wickets in the process while conceding runs at a decent 7.58 runs an over. Even though Sri Lanka made the mistake of preferring Pramod Madushan over him earlier in the tournament, they quickly rectified that mistake and one can only hope they don’t repeat that.

Chamika Karunaratne did not contribute much with the bat but his bowling was steady for a fifth bowler as he picked up 3 wickets while going for only 8 runs per over. Although Sri Lanka picked Madushan ahead of him in the game against Afghanistan, they soon understood the value of a number 8 who can bat as they brought him back for the final game.

A number 8 who can bat adds batting depth. Courtesy: ICC

The all-rounder has copped a lot of criticisms for his lackluster performance but replacing him won’t be a straightforward task. The World Cup has already shown how unreliable medium pacers like Kasun Rajitha and Madushan are and that it is always more desirable to pick bowling all-rounders instead of specialist medium pacers. So, to replace Chamika, Sri Lanka will have to find a bowling all-rounder, a rare breed in the island, or find an express bowler, which is very much possible once Dushmantha Chameera and Dilshan Madushanka are back. If they chose to do the latter, then the bowlers will have to save extra 15-20 runs for their shortened batting lineup.

On the spin front, Hasaranga was Sri Lanka’s leading wicket-taker once again but his inability to be flexible was on full display at Perth, when he was taken apart by Australia. Even though his predilection to bowl slow and low will help him in the West Indies, his obsession with it won’t allow him to be successful across the world.

Maheesh Theekshana, on the other hand, bowled decently well during the powerplay and the middle overs but his inconsistency with his lengths at the death meant that he traveled at 9.8 runs an over, which is a complete contrast to his performance at the Asia Cup. Though the pitches in the Caribbean will assist him better, Sri Lanka should probably rely less on him at the death.

While Sri Lanka have three top-gun spin bowling options, the absence of a left-arm spinner has left a gaping hole in Sri Lanka’s bowling attack, which has disallowed the team from exploiting matchup opportunities in recent times. Even though accommodating a specialist finger spinner won’t be easy, Sri Lanka can look for left-arm-spin-bowling all-rounders or an ambidextrous bowler like Tharindu Ratnayake who can bowl at both right- and left-handed batsmen.

Unlike in this World Cup, Sri Lanka have a good chance of entering the knockout stage in the 2024 World Cup as the conditions will be in their favor. Their T20I side is slowly taking shape and it is important that any demands to disrupt the core of this team following the World Cup exit is vehemently resisted. They have another two years to prepare and if they can build on the core that they have now and fill out the vacant positions, they will be able to field a competitive team cometh the next World Cup.