Sri Lanka in a World Cup funk
Sri Lanka have New Zealand at 93 for 5 in the 20th over. The game is being played in Dunedin, where Sri Lanka will return to in a month's time for the World Cup. Having been woeful through the series, It is encouraging to see the visitors' bowling roar back into contention.
The eternally optimistic of fans might proclaim Lahiru Thirimanne's genius as captain. Standing in for the injured Angelo Mathews, he has tidy figures of 2 for 17 and has eased a nervous twitch over Lasith Malinga's absence. At last, the promised zeal before the big tournament is here.
New Zealand make 360 for 5. In an ODI.
Sleep walking tends to occur in the latter stages of sleep when there is the least amount of brain activity. For Sri Lanka's bowlers this appears to strike, around the 35th over. The bits-and-pieces bowlers have been taken apart. There are no yokers, there are only boundaries. So many boundaries.
Sri Lanka have the most experienced squad going into the World Cup, but it is disproportionately spread among a few players, most of whom are better with the bat. It becomes clear that any chance Sri Lanka have hinges on a bowler with one ankle. Malinga may or may not play in the World Cup and even if he does, there are questions over his match fitness. It is a big risk to pin your chances on one player, but one that Sri Lanka must take given the quality of the other bowlers.
Without the experience of Malinga to help, Nuwan Kulasekara's dip in form seems that much bigger. Jeevan Mendis, Suranga Lakmal and Thisara Perera have been outclassed in the latter overs against New Zealand. It is a very worrying trend for a Sri Lankan supporter.
So the target is 361. When faced with these outlandish odds, fans largely pretend not to care while secretly harbouring some level of hope. Sri Lanka just need a couple of hundreds from the top order and they could get close. Dimuth Karunaratne just needs to play a solid innings to help Tillakaratne Dilshan out.
Only Thirimanne opens with Dilshan. Karunaratne doesn't bat until No. 9. In the next game he bats at No. 5.
Now that Dilshan's batting has become more stable instead of the 'see-ball-hit-ball' style he practiced early in his career, pairing him with an accumulator like Thirimanne or Karunaratne seems counterintuitive. Meanwhile, Kusal Perera has been dropped, inconsistent yet capable of providing that early momentum.
Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are class batsmen. But they aren't quite known for deflating opposition attacks unless Sangakkara turns his 2.0 mode on or Jayawardene has one of his silkier days. Much of the batting impetus must come from the first set of Powerplays to allow Sangakkara and Jayawardene to play their game.
Karunaratne is not the man for this job and Sanath Jayasuriya, chairman of selectors, admitted picking him as opener was a mistake. Further, shuffling him all over the batting order feels like the team are now unsure of what to do with him.
Mendis comes in and is out for 18. The next game, he scores just 3 runs. He is another one of the odd choices that Sri Lanka are hoping to justify before the World Cup.
Along with Mathews, Thisara is the only claim Sri Lanka have for a power hitter down the order. In seven games this year, he has scored 27 runs. With the ball, he has given away 329 at an economy rate of 7. Sri Lanka rely heavily on Thisara for acceleration in the final overs and his failure tends to reduce their final total by a good margin.
Sri Lanka's batting has been very sporadic during the New Zealand ODIs. Their fielding seems to have succumbed to the relentless march of age. But these sub-standard performances were almost expected when Malinga looked uncertain for the World Cup. The story of this game could easily be that of any other. The gaping holes in the Sri Lankan ODI side have never truly been filled.
Panic is a strong word. It may not have set in yet, but it is swirling around the Sri Lankan team. They are a side with a few great batsmen and a few good bowlers, but are yet to click as a team. They now have to make do with that squad, play the two spinners and hope Malinga can come back sooner than later. It might sound a worn out narrative but Sri Lanka's campaign once again rest on their superstars and it is a reality that must be acknowledged.
As fans, it's a very tumultuous time watching your team crumble with the World Cup round the corner. It is perhaps the equivalent of getting paralysed by poison. Your body is immobile giving the impression that you've died, but inside, you are still very much alive. Screaming.
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Damith Samarakoon is a Sri Lankan cricket fanatic living in Sydney. He blogs regularly at www.theflyslip.net