Sri Lanka’s free-fall in world cricket in the recent past has been alarming. The team was expected to lose some matches but never were they expected to surrender without a fight. There is a new off-putting trend about the Sri Lankan players that has become more and more conspicuous over the time. The team is flaccid and the players have become lethargic- more due to lack of confidence than physical fitness.
When Jerome Jayaratne took over as the interim Head Coach of Sri Lanka, he made no bones about some of the fielders’ anxiety over catching balls. The players were so demoralized that many of them feared that they would drop the catch as the ball approached them. The same trepidation seems to be still haunting this team.
The team has seen worse in the past. But every time they were ensnared by challenges, the team rallied together and gallantly fought back. The Sri Lankan brand of cricket was chiefly about the never-say-die attitude than flying goliaths over the boundary line. Youngsters are supposed to bring in a lot of energy, but that is hardly evident in the field.
However, it is not new for Sri Lanka to run into an ICC tournament with a poor pre-tournament record. In an optimistic perspective, one could argue Sri Lanka has always upped their ante during flagship tournaments.
So, not everything is pear shaped for Sri Lanka. They will not be barging into India, Pakistan or Bangladesh in the group stages and if they manage to engender enough momentum, then they can fancy their chances of going all the way. The team is replete with match winners, and Sri Lanka’s primary goal should be having, at least, a few of its cylinders firing. The first step to upend the fortunes is to play the right XI.
The opening conundrum
The ban imposed on Kusal Perera has turned the side topsy-turvy as the team is in an earnest need to find a like-for-like opening batsman. Dhanushka Gunathilake shone brightly with the bat initially, but flickered in the series against India and his unimpressive records at the provincial T20 tournament comfortably saw him out of the T20I side.
To aggravate Sri Lanka’s concerns, TM Dilshan hasn’t had a rosy streak of T20I matches and thus, Sri Lanka has been forced to make tough calls.
Momentum is necessary for a format as short as T20 and if the openers are going to stutter, it can easily sap the rhythm of the whole batting lineup. TM Dilshan has become really conservative with the bat, which works for him in ODIs as he is now able to anchor most part of the innings, but that subverted batting style has come haunting both him and the team in T20Is.
Dilshan’s run-a-ball innings are too slow for T20Is and a failure to provide a quick start can severely hamper the impetus of the whole batting lineup. It is true that Dilshan has been a great servant of Sri Lanka Cricket, but the team is quickly running into a position where tough decisions have to be made. Sri Lanka should look for other options to open the innings.
Even though, against Pakistan Dilshan hit back at critics with 56-ball 75, his innings hardly took off on what was proven to be the best batting pitch hitherto. The openers occupied the crease for too long without trying to increase the rate of scoring, which resulted in the team not scoring what would have been adequate on this pitch.
Dinesh Chandimal’s promotion to the crest has been beneficial for him thus far, even though the popular opinion in the social media is that he was too slow. But comparing his innings with that of Virat Kohli would evince the fact that the they have both scored almost at the same rate. Unlike Dilshan, Chandimal is amongst the runs and with better batting wickets in India might come innings at a better strike rate from the wicket-keeper batsman.
Exclusion of Dilshan from opening the innings opens up the opportunity for either of Niroshan Dickwella or Shehan Jayasuriya at the top slot. Of the two southpaws, Niroshan Dickwella has a better technique and is a better timer of the ball than Shehan, who is a hard-hitter. Dickwella’s fluent stroke making along the ground and his ability to hit through the field will make him an ideal foil for a batsman like Chandimal. i
Chandimal, if his recent performance is a semblance of his real ability, can be expected to anchor the first half of Sri Lanka’s innings while Niroshan Dickwella can be allowed to be rambunctious.
Dilshan’s subdued batting can make him an ideal number three while the performance of Shehan Jayasuriya at number three in the recent past cannot be ignored. Dilshan has proven himself to be a great strike-rotator, an important trait for a number three, but Shehan Jayasuriya’s ability to hit boundaries sans much risk place him at an advantage.
Dilshan has been struggling to find the fence in recent times, and as the pressure mounts, he often resorts to paddle sweeps and scoops. Another new alarming feature that can be observed about Dilshan is that he moves across the stumps and tries to scythe the ball through mid-wicket with a high backlift- every sign of a man struggling to time the ball properly. Even though batsmen at the international level suffer poor runs of form, at the ripe old age Dilshan is in, form, once lost, is almost lost forever. Should Sri Lanka risk a few more games with Dilshan hoping that he would strike the right chord or should they be looking at a youngster who has fared better than Dilshan is a mooted question. The presence of Kapugedera, who is as brilliant as Dilshan in the field, and the availability of spin bowling options between Milinda Siriwardene and Shehan Jayasuriya only make Dilshan a dispensable player.
In my perspective, Sri Lanka should look ahead at the future and play Jayasuriya at number three.