Abu Dhabi: Sri Lanka are going into the ICC World Cup 2019 as underdogs at a time when the Islanders are reeling under communal violence in the aftermath of one of the deadliest terror attacks.
The political turmoil has also affected their entire system, let alone the smooth functioning of the cricketing board, that has been repeatedly marred by controversies.
What has left the side struggling is the fact that they have still not been able to fill in the huge void left by two of their greats — Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. They have not won a bilateral series for over two years and the captaincy has repeatedly changed hands – more in desperation than anything else.
With coach Chandika Hathurusingha and veteran all-rounder Angelo Mathews failing to maintain a cordial relationship and veteran pacer Lasith Malinga’s miserable stint as skipper ending in 5-0 loss to South Africa in the last series, the board President Shammi Silva was forced to hand over the captain’s baton to opener Dimuth Karunaratne.
The left-handed opener has made a huge impact in the longer format by leading Sri Lanka to a historic Test series whitewash in South Africa earlier this year, standing in for Dinesh Chandimal. The entire nation will be hoping he can change their fortunes on the big stage as well and give them something to rejoice in these testing times.
Lasith Malinga, veteran sling-arm death bowling specialist, is still the go-to man. However, he isn’t that popular with in the team, unlike in the Mumbai Indians squad. However, Sri Lanka have no choice but to bank on the 35-year-old pacer’s toe-crushing yorkers to get them across the line at crucial junctures. Malinga may have slowed down with age but his slingshot action and variations are still hard to pick. It was in full public view when he led Mumbai to their fourth Indian Premier League (IPL) title with a breathtaking final over recently. The only concern will be whether he is fit enough to bowl 10 overs at full throttle and with the same intensity.
Though all-rounder Mathews has struggled with a recurring hamstring injury, he has shown signs of his old self in Sri Lanka’s domestic Super Provincial One Day tournament where he accumulated 227 runs in four innings, including a century and a fifty. If Sri Lanka have to make some impression in the tournament, Mathews needs to fire.
In a desperate move to bring about luck, experienced players such as former captain Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Upul Tharanga and Akila Dananjaya have been all sidelined in one go.
Milinda Siriwardana, Jeffrey Vandersay and Jeevan Mendis are the replacements but they are coming into a high-profile tournament after long breaks. Siriwardana and Vandersay last figured in ODIs in 2017 while Mendis had figured in one match against Afghanistan during the 2015 World Cup.
The captaincy is nothing less than a baptism by fire for Karunaratne, but it also serves him with an opportunity to prove that he can rise up to the challenge. However, he is coming into the ODI format after a long sabbatical — four years to be precise. He was left in the cold for ODIs since the 2015 edition of the ICC World Cup.
With a career average of a mere 15.83 in 17 ODIs, the 31-year-old has a Herculean task of getting the maximum out of his inexperienced side as a captain while ensuring that his own performance with the willow remains effective upfront.
Clearly, these sweeping changes are an attempt to end a series of poor performances but there is very little doubt that it will be a struggle for the team to get past the group stage.
Losing wickets in a heap has been a major worry for the Lankans. It will also be interesting to see with whom Karunaratne will be partnering with at the top — 21-year-old Avishka Fernando or Lahiru Thirimanne, who last played in 2017. Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva, making a comeback, also have their task cut out as their previous appearances paint a sorry picture.
Main Man: Lasith Malinga
Apperance: 1975, 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1996 (Champion), 1999,
2003, 2007 (Runners-up), 2011 (Runners-up), 2015.
ICC ODI ranking: No.8
Squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Avishka Fernando, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Perera (wk), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jeevan Mendis, Milinda Siriwardana, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Jeffrey Vandersay, Nuwan Pradeep.