England v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, The Oval May 22, 2014

Only the start of the short stuff

Sri Lanka's bowlers had propelled their World T20 campaign, often bailing out lacklustre batting displays, but when the bowlers had a bad evening in London, the batsmen could not reciprocate

When Graham Ford departed from his role with Sri Lanka, and Paul Farbrace arrived in late January, both coaches issued identical appraisals of the team's chances in the two upcoming global tournaments.

"They have a terrific opportunity to win the World T20 in Bangladesh," Ford said, "there's no doubt about that." But both men were a little less hopeful about the World Cup. "We're not quite there yet," Farbrace had said. "There are some key things to develop, and the England series should give us a fair indication where we are at as a side."

As Sri Lanka faltered for the first time in 11 ODIs, at The Oval, many of their shortcomings on quicker, bouncier conditions were made plain. Sri Lanka's bowlers had propelled their World T20 campaign, often bailing out lacklustre batting displays, but when the bowlers had a bad evening in London, the batsmen could not reciprocate.

Lahiru Thirimanne got late-swinging delivery early in his innings, but several other batsmen failed to account for the bounce and movement typical in England, and surely forthcoming in Australia and New Zealand as well.

Tillakaratne Dilshan failed to put away short balls at his body, early in the innings, piling pressure on himself to explode, as the run rate climbed. He is often a consummate player of the pull - a stroke he executes with typical homespun swagger - but has recently struggled with it on faster surfaces. In the end, it would be a slash through the offside that undid him, as he underestimated the bounce Chris Jordan's hit-the-deck pace would achieve.

Before Dilshan departed, a leaden-footed Kumar Sangakkara had played Harry Gurney on, when the bowler nipped one back. It is unlike Sangakkara to have footwork out of order, but Sri Lanka could do themselves much good if they arrive at the Tests on the back of a big ODI series win. If the visitors are to keep England's spirits low, even uncharacteristic mistakes may have to be omitted by the senior players, who have considerable experience in similar conditions.

Dinesh Chandimal was targeted with the short ball in the T20 match as well, and here departed to it, heaving forcefully at Jordan, to offer thin top-edge to the keeper. The previous ball had been a bouncer, which Chandimal had hooked at and missed - further suggestion that England will persist with this plan to him.

He has flourished in England before, but this uncertainty against the short ball was unearthed by Pakistan in the Test series in January, when Junaid Khan had him caught at fine leg in successive innings. Interestingly, Farbrace, then about to take Sri Lanka's reins, had been in the stands on the second occasion. However England came by their mode of attack, it is out in the open now. Chandimal was already under significant scrutiny when he arrived in this series, and will now be watched even closer, while Ashan Priyanjan awaits his turn in the middle order.

The requirement was too steep even for Angelo Mathews, who lately has grown as a finisher. Perhaps more intent at the top of the innings would have eased the middle-order's burden, and to that end, Kusal Perera may be reconsidered for the coming matches. Kusal has been notoriously inconsistent, but few young Sri Lanka batsmen sustain excellence in the first years of their careers. What is more, when he delivers a good knocks, he leaves the side well in control of the innings.

If he is to come in at opener, he will displace Thirimanne, but perhaps that creates an opportunity of its own. Sri Lanka's batting concentrates its experience in the top four, but if Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were to move down to Nos. 4 and 5 respectively, Thirimanne could remain in the top three where he prefers, and the unit becomes more balanced overall. Jayawardene has long been the most versatile ODI batsman Sri Lanka have, and a lower position may free him to play the finishing innings he has often provided. Sangakkara, meanwhile, has now acquired the aptitude for sustained aggression that might make him a good No.4.

The bowlers' quality and track record suggests they will recover quickly from a poor outing. But if Sri Lanka's tour, and their World Cup preparations, are to go to plan, the batsmen would do well to give their team-mates more cover than they did on Thursday.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nick on May 25, 2014, 14:08 GMT

    Thirimanne's 10 runs from 37 balls in the 2nd ODI vs England just isn't quick enough and leaves SL 20 runs short. Kusal is a better open to open the innings with Dilshan. Even if he fails it's at a run a ball or better and if he stays in for 10 overs plus SL wins.

  • Nick on May 25, 2014, 10:39 GMT

    @Lenard Fernardo. I am not comparing Tharanga, Vithanage or Kusal, just noting Tharanga's crucial ODI innings vs Ireland and Kithuruwan's T20 blitz (52 off 24 balls) vs Sussex. And noting that neither Tharanga nor promising Kithuruwan are in the current ODI squad, and Kusal is. This leaves only an under-performing Kusal as a selection option to open with Dilshan, which would allow Thirimanne to drop to 3. Why Tharanga with his impressive England record was not selected for the England tour (only for Ireland ODIs) especially after 2 centuries for SL A vs England Lions, and why he was dropped from SLs ODI and Test teams in the first place are the key questions. I watched his excellent 149 for SL A vs England Lions in the 3rd Test at the Premadasa in February. The selectors should recall Tharanga for both home series vs South Africa in July and Pakistan in August (4 Tests and 6 ODIs in total) and give the SL A captaincy for the mid-July tour of England to someone else.

  • Samantha on May 24, 2014, 14:44 GMT

    @FawltyBean: Good... who needs experience or skills.! In the near future, Reality will strike with a Bang, when it appears in Practical Terms.!! Don't worry pal, Tharanga wouldn't be even considered for a place in the squad, as usual. I have posted my opinion to the broadminded SL cricket fans, who are capable to understand simple logic.

  • Fawlty on May 24, 2014, 13:46 GMT

    @Compton-Effect - We don't thankfully need anyone to partner with Dilshan for Tests. Dilshan retired from tests last year to concentrate on ODI's and T20 leagues around the world.

  • Samantha on May 24, 2014, 12:54 GMT

    When you think about the upcoming Test series in Eng, the obvious question is, do we have any opener with experience to partner Dilshan in those conditions? We have Kaushal Silva, who is new. Although, Tharanga had been given just 15 Tests, he had accumulated 713 Test Runs, Averaging 28.52 , 165 HS + 3 x 50+ scores during that short period in Test format.

    When you consider his ability to stay at the wicket, in any condition, and his recent performances in SL-A, I think Tharanga is a worthwhile option to try out in Tests too, especially in England.

    His unique record of long partnerships in ODIs, is a Golden Testimony for his ability to stay at the wicket to play a long inning. Which is the prime factor required from a Test batsmen.

    Upul Tharanga is holding the WORLD-RECORD for the MOST number of 200+ PARTNERSHIPS in ODI. He has involved SEVEN times in 200+ PARTNERSHIPS for SL!. The only other player in the world, who has equaled this World Record, is Aussie player Ricky Ponting

  • Ted on May 24, 2014, 10:35 GMT

    @nickexplore: Why are you trying to compare a player like Upul tharanga with such an exceptional track record (spreading over 5000+ ODI runs) with Kithuruwa & Kusal? Remember, this Thranga boy had scored 13 big CENTURIES & 28 Fifty plus scores for SL, in every corner of the world, handling BOUNCE,SEAM, PACE & SPIN equally well.! It seems you don't properly understand what is cricket. In Ireland he had to play the anchor role withstanding that hostile seam bowling, when Kusal vanished within 4 balls and the 2nd wicket also fell pretty quickly. If not for his valuable contribution of being there until the end of hostile morning session, with 24 runs, SL may have lost that ODI to Ireland. Tharanga accomplished what an opener suppose to do in ODIs. This format is entirely different from T20, where you may whack as you wish, since there are 11 players to share the bite in that short spell of 20 overs!

    Tharanga is an exceptional opener, that cannot be compared with any other opener in SL.

  • Nick on May 24, 2014, 9:18 GMT

    If Upul Tharanga was in SLs ODI squad I bet he would be selected to open in the 2nd ODI (averages 33.88 with a 174*). Likewise Kithuruwan Vithanage, whose 52* off 24 balls in the T20 vs Sussex showed just how explosive he can be. Kusal Janith certainly has competition for his spot. If Kusal could just stay in for 10-15 overs, SL would win everytime because he scores so quickly. I know he has licence to attack from the outset but his success rate is just too low. Maybe Tharanga will be recalled for the series against South Africa in SL in July, in which case Sri Lanka A will need a new captain for their England tour.

  • Lalith on May 24, 2014, 9:06 GMT

    I prefer the same team to play next 2 matches and see. Then bring changes. This is the best 11 for WC in NZ/AU. Hope SL will improve in the next match.

  • Nick on May 24, 2014, 4:42 GMT

    Neither Upul Tharanga (24 off 52 balls vs Ireland) nor Kithuruwan Vithanage are in SLs current ODI squad, so the selectors will probably recall Kusal Perera for the 2nd ODI vs England to open with Dilshan and put Thirimanne at 3. Ashan Priyanjan and Chathuranga de Silva provide the selectors with middle-order options should Chandimal and others continue to under-perform, while Ajantha Mendis gives the team the x-factor missing from the bowling attack in the 1st ODI.

  • Dummy4 on May 24, 2014, 3:00 GMT

    Sri Lanka would have given a better show if both teams batted in the same weather conditions.That is natural after the rain ,fast bowlers have very big advantage due to the moisture in the air.Nothing wrong with Sri Lankans.They will come up in second game with adjust to the england conditions.I hope SL should try Upul Thranga to open with Dilshan.One of the openers should play a long game.

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