New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group A, Cardiff June 8, 2013

Sri Lanka openers reclaim '96 spirit

Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kusal Perera will attempt a breakneck start, but Sri Lanka have not compromised on finishing quality. It is difficult not to draw comparisons with their 1996 World Cup strategy
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Sri Lankans can be a strange people. It's the height of impoliteness to decline a meal when visiting friends, but only after you have initially placed a soft refusal. "No, we couldn't possibly bother you, and we've got to run anyway," becomes a four-hour visit that's split in half by the first goodbye, and then a string of secondary farewells that interject conversation over the next two hours. Bus drivers alternate between pressing the accelerator to the floor and slamming on the brakes about a dozen times in 30 seconds. And the bakers have long since ceased to put any fish in the fish buns.

The Sri Lanka attack has been an apt reflection of Sri Lankan weirdness in past years, but ahead of the Champions Trophy, it is the batting strategy that seems odd. Before the tournament began, MS Dhoni had predicted that teams, his included, would seek to conserve wickets against the two new balls, and then cash in on field restrictions later in the innings. Sri Lanka, though, are heading in the opposite direction. Their opening pair of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kusal Perera possess the highest combined strike-rates for their country. Colombo's Beira Lake will freeze over before Angelo Mathews asks either to rein his game in.

It is difficult not to draw comparisons with Sri Lanka's strategy in the 1996 World Cup. Like Sanath Jayasuriya, Perera is a manufactured opener - he mans the middle order for his domestic side, and that is where he began for Sri Lanka. Also like Jayasuriya, he had been picked for his second-skill (keeping wickets), but he was so impactful down the order, his talent seemed wasted there. Before the tour of Australia was over, he was opening alongside Dilshan, and has since punched out a batting average well over 50 - albeit in only seven matches. Perera's brashness and dominant bottom-hand bear a strong resemblance to the old man as well, though whether his bhangra is quite as good as that of his chief selector, who recently did a season with a dance show, remains to be seen.

"He's very fearless and he hasn't changed anything about the way he plays since he was in the Under-19 teams," Mathews said of Perera. "He wants to take on any bowler that comes his way, and he takes a lot of pressure off Dilshan as well. That combination works for us.

"We'll try to play the way we are capable of playing cricket. We've got a couple of dashing openers at the top. So we are not trying to change too much of them."

Mahela Jayawardene's promotion to no. 3 in the warm-up matches may also convey something of Sri Lanka's plans for the tournament. The earlier Jayawardene has arrived at the crease in the past, the freer his strokemaking has been. In the 1996 World Cup semi-final, the early fall of both openers induced one of the most audacious counterattacks in ODI history from Aravinda de Silva, who struck 66 from 47 to draw the poison from India's attack. If Jayawardene is being handed a similar mandate, then, deliberately or not, Sri Lanka are reclaiming the 1996 spirit that remains the single-most treasured cricket memory for fans, players and administrators in the country.

Like the 1996 team that had Hashan Tillakaratne as low as no. 7, Sri Lanka bat deep in 2013 too. Mathews ordinarily arrives at no.6, but has in the past year been followed by Thisara Perera and Jeevan Mendis, though, if conditions suit, fast-bowling allrounder Dilhara Lokuhettige might be preferred to the latter. Nuwan Kulasekara is in good touch with the bat too, having struck an unbeaten 40 in the warm-up match against West Indies, meaning that although Sri Lanka will attempt a breakneck start, they have not compromised on finishing quality.

"We'll let the openers play how they've been used to playing, and the rest of the few players can consolidate in the middle," Mathews said. "We've got a few power hitters as well at the back end as well, so we've got a pretty balanced team."

Perhaps no Sri Lankan team, no matter how good, can live up to the legend of the 1996 pioneers, of course, given their effect on the nation's cricketing landscape. But out of that World Cup, some fuzzy, oft-invoked notion of a "Sri Lankan brand of cricket" was born, and if this team can rediscover that knack for hyper-aggression, they will make for compelling viewing, win or lose.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on June 9, 2013, 9:39 GMT

    This current Srilankan team looks good on paper but haven't been consistent with their performance. Dilshan, Jaya, Sanga have lost their shine and Malinga is only good for once in every five matches. What Jaya and Kalu did in 1996 WC took everyone by surprise by taking advantage of the field restrictions in the first fifteen overs. But those were different days and subcontinent pitches there used to have little or no seam movement for the fast bowlers. These English pitches are different and batsmen have to apply themselves first before playing their shots. More than anything else, Openers Dilshan and Perera need to be cautious with their approach and make sure they don't loose wicket in the first 6 overs. Instead of attacking the bowling from the beginning, its better to get your feet set and then start pacing the innings.

  • pull_shot on June 9, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    @ kevepere u check srilanak didnt win atleast one test match in India and u won only in 96 wc and some times because of sanath thats it and i think u never won odi series also the best u have done in india is 5-2 in odi series leave out silly t20 and frankly speaking before dhoni india's win on SL turf r not many to say but not as pathetic as Sl in india

  • JMKCB on June 9, 2013, 7:59 GMT

    gsingh7,

    Yes you are correct.SL lost 3-0 to Australia in the test series..But what about ODI and T20 series?SL won the T20 series 2-0 and tied the ODI series 2-2...ICC champions trophy is about ODI...so please post relevant arguments..

  • osiru on June 9, 2013, 6:52 GMT

    these days a lot of indian fans presenting comments about sri lankan cricket. as a very desciplene unit they are playing very good cricket over the years though they didnt hold the big trophys unfortunately captains like mahela and sangakkara is always very tentative as batsmans and captains respectively even you may have seen in the last wc final not leading infront according to the situation like did ranatunga in 1996 a lot of pushing pushing at backfoot mahela , mathews,sangakkara tents to come to forward speacially to spinners look at kusal perera he coaching them selvers. thisara may bat as many overs , eranga bawling and coaching to malinga and kula , we might play with senanayake as meny then we will need a calm and wise captain to lead if they will works with this no doubt they will in to the front ....... go lions ........

  • Tal_Botvinnik on June 9, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    @Dulanjan: Precisely Mate, You are spot on.

  • Dulanjan on June 9, 2013, 6:14 GMT

    He he... Indian fans commented more than Lankans here in this SL page. It shows clearly that how much they watch closely about the progress of the Lankans. If you know what I mean. :D :D

  • kevepere on June 9, 2013, 5:56 GMT

    If you are an India saying that SL has been always behind India is a big lie. It was after Dhoni's captaincy that India have been clearly better than sl after every bowler gets exposed in the IPL. Sri lanka has been better at ranathunga's time aswel . Half way through mahela's time was also better. Sri lanka can find many unique bowlers where as India cannot. If Indians with the almost 20% of world population , has been only doing well in cricket are really bashing about other smaller countries. Think twice guys , your country is no where near a sporty country. India is behind head to head to WI, AUS, SA , PAK

  • on June 9, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    Sri lanka has a good team and they should reach the semis-from there its anybodys game

  • Mutukisna on June 8, 2013, 22:06 GMT

    Most cricket fans are not giving Sri Lanka any chance of progressing into the semi-finals. Sadly, I was thinking alike. In recent WC championships Sri Lanka have confounded their critics by reaching four finals - a very creditable record indeed. Yes, we feel sore about not winning a final but how many sides can boast of a record such as ours, at least for consistency. I will be delighted if, win or lose, we continue to provide innovations to the game of Cricket as we have done over the last 17 years. There is one little light at the end of the tunnel as far this last Champions trophy is concerned, given that nobody except hard core loyal supporters are giving us a chance. The white Kookaburra ball is, apparently,not swinging as much as expected in England and this can only help our batsmen against their perceived weakness against the swinging ball. So play your normal game, Kusal Perera & Dilshan, giving SL an explosive start, and the batsmen to follow will do the rest.

  • gauravm5 on June 8, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    India WAS better team than Sri Lanka, IS better team than Sri Lanka & WILL always be better team than SL

  • on June 9, 2013, 9:39 GMT

    This current Srilankan team looks good on paper but haven't been consistent with their performance. Dilshan, Jaya, Sanga have lost their shine and Malinga is only good for once in every five matches. What Jaya and Kalu did in 1996 WC took everyone by surprise by taking advantage of the field restrictions in the first fifteen overs. But those were different days and subcontinent pitches there used to have little or no seam movement for the fast bowlers. These English pitches are different and batsmen have to apply themselves first before playing their shots. More than anything else, Openers Dilshan and Perera need to be cautious with their approach and make sure they don't loose wicket in the first 6 overs. Instead of attacking the bowling from the beginning, its better to get your feet set and then start pacing the innings.

  • pull_shot on June 9, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    @ kevepere u check srilanak didnt win atleast one test match in India and u won only in 96 wc and some times because of sanath thats it and i think u never won odi series also the best u have done in india is 5-2 in odi series leave out silly t20 and frankly speaking before dhoni india's win on SL turf r not many to say but not as pathetic as Sl in india

  • JMKCB on June 9, 2013, 7:59 GMT

    gsingh7,

    Yes you are correct.SL lost 3-0 to Australia in the test series..But what about ODI and T20 series?SL won the T20 series 2-0 and tied the ODI series 2-2...ICC champions trophy is about ODI...so please post relevant arguments..

  • osiru on June 9, 2013, 6:52 GMT

    these days a lot of indian fans presenting comments about sri lankan cricket. as a very desciplene unit they are playing very good cricket over the years though they didnt hold the big trophys unfortunately captains like mahela and sangakkara is always very tentative as batsmans and captains respectively even you may have seen in the last wc final not leading infront according to the situation like did ranatunga in 1996 a lot of pushing pushing at backfoot mahela , mathews,sangakkara tents to come to forward speacially to spinners look at kusal perera he coaching them selvers. thisara may bat as many overs , eranga bawling and coaching to malinga and kula , we might play with senanayake as meny then we will need a calm and wise captain to lead if they will works with this no doubt they will in to the front ....... go lions ........

  • Tal_Botvinnik on June 9, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    @Dulanjan: Precisely Mate, You are spot on.

  • Dulanjan on June 9, 2013, 6:14 GMT

    He he... Indian fans commented more than Lankans here in this SL page. It shows clearly that how much they watch closely about the progress of the Lankans. If you know what I mean. :D :D

  • kevepere on June 9, 2013, 5:56 GMT

    If you are an India saying that SL has been always behind India is a big lie. It was after Dhoni's captaincy that India have been clearly better than sl after every bowler gets exposed in the IPL. Sri lanka has been better at ranathunga's time aswel . Half way through mahela's time was also better. Sri lanka can find many unique bowlers where as India cannot. If Indians with the almost 20% of world population , has been only doing well in cricket are really bashing about other smaller countries. Think twice guys , your country is no where near a sporty country. India is behind head to head to WI, AUS, SA , PAK

  • on June 9, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    Sri lanka has a good team and they should reach the semis-from there its anybodys game

  • Mutukisna on June 8, 2013, 22:06 GMT

    Most cricket fans are not giving Sri Lanka any chance of progressing into the semi-finals. Sadly, I was thinking alike. In recent WC championships Sri Lanka have confounded their critics by reaching four finals - a very creditable record indeed. Yes, we feel sore about not winning a final but how many sides can boast of a record such as ours, at least for consistency. I will be delighted if, win or lose, we continue to provide innovations to the game of Cricket as we have done over the last 17 years. There is one little light at the end of the tunnel as far this last Champions trophy is concerned, given that nobody except hard core loyal supporters are giving us a chance. The white Kookaburra ball is, apparently,not swinging as much as expected in England and this can only help our batsmen against their perceived weakness against the swinging ball. So play your normal game, Kusal Perera & Dilshan, giving SL an explosive start, and the batsmen to follow will do the rest.

  • gauravm5 on June 8, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    India WAS better team than Sri Lanka, IS better team than Sri Lanka & WILL always be better team than SL

  • gauravm5 on June 8, 2013, 21:03 GMT

    For all Indian bashers, in the last 6 years, India played 23 ODIs against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, India won 15 and SL won ONLY 8.... In the last 5 One Days, India played against Sri Lanka outside subcontinent, India won 3, SL won ONLY 1 with 1 tie.

  • bbnn on June 8, 2013, 20:46 GMT

    I am an Indian, still remembering Ranathunga's tactics in 96 kalu and jayasurya was attacking from ball one then they have Gurusinghe then the class of Aravinda after that Ranathunga the leader but i noticed one thing after all these great players they have the calm and class of two batsmen Hashan Thilakarathne and my favourit Sl batsman Roshan Mahanama! They were like glue in those days if the top order fails they were consolidating very well SL was my favourit team those days but becuase of some SL fans i don't have that much liking but i am not hating as well

  • on June 8, 2013, 19:28 GMT

    @gsingh7: So true mate. These are bouncy wickets like in Aussie. Thats why your team got whitewashed 8-0 @IndianCoolGuy: Hey cool guy first of all it's 'weak' and second of all we'll wait till the tournament is over to brag shall we mate?

  • on June 8, 2013, 19:14 GMT

    Tisara Perera should come at No. 4. He dont waste balls. He either hit or get out soon. He should be given the bat early. He has won many matches for SL with the bat.

  • on June 8, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    Sri Lankas record in Australia and England in the recent past is better than at home. We have won 9 out of 14 games in Australia and more than 50% in England. Our record in bouncy pitches in recent past is better than at home

  • gsingh7 on June 8, 2013, 18:36 GMT

    so much hype for kusal and i am sure he will be exposed just like malinga and mendis were exposed by indian batsmen like kohli and dhoni. he will not make more than 5 runs. also 1996 played on flat sc track, these are bouncy tracks on which sll lost recent series (3-0) in aus where tracks were similar to england.

  • Baseball-Sucks on June 8, 2013, 18:10 GMT

    Well done Mr. Andrew..a fantastic article. "It's the height of impoliteness to decline a meal when visiting friends, but only after you have initially placed a soft refusal. " huh huh haaa..a good one. Anyway, this is a winning combination we've got here. An explosive opening pair, a solid middle order n great power hitters at the end. So, all those minnows like India better stop dreaming about the trophy coz Lions are on their way to own it. @IndianCoolGuy ; In your dreams pal... LIONS LEAD THE WAY !!!!

  • ChandraPrince on June 8, 2013, 17:49 GMT

    I wish all the best for Sri Lanka! But if they underestimate New Zealand that would be their self-undoing. One thing obvious I've know is you can expect exciting criket as long as Sri lankans out there on the field.

  • xylo on June 8, 2013, 17:40 GMT

    The biggest differences between the '96 spirit and now are that Ranatunga hardly spoke about Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana's tactics up until winning the World Cup, as opposed to waxing eloquently about Dilshan and Perera before doing anything noteworthy. Let's not forget that Sangakkara is possibly the only batsman who has the technique to adapt to these pitches. Sadly, Mahela is not. The other difference is that the '96 spirit was embellished predominantly in slow and low pitches in the subcontinent.

  • Master_Mihil on June 8, 2013, 17:31 GMT

    Allthough we have a very good batting line-up, we have not so champion bowling line-up. We need another Murali or Vass. Ever consistent Bowlers.

  • on June 8, 2013, 17:17 GMT

    hope the opening pair comes off. it would be a great sight to watch the two tear bowling attacks apart

  • IndianCoolGuy on June 8, 2013, 17:12 GMT

    Srilanka is lucky to play with week team in the tournament. Of course they have to work very very very hard to beat them. Mr Sanga has to play his role. This is ODI and suited for this style of batting, so SL fans can expect something from him. Australia has never looked so week as this time. That is again advantage for SL team. so if they put up 100% then they can be in semis. India will come in 1st position in group B and SL in second position in group A, so SL Vs India in semis..Fun to watch. I know India wins and enters into final..

  • Lalindra2012 on June 8, 2013, 17:10 GMT

    It is high time our boys play to their true potential and show the cricketing fraternity what their capable of rather than been tagged as the punching bag of INDIA and chokers when it comes to international tournaments.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Lalindra2012 on June 8, 2013, 17:10 GMT

    It is high time our boys play to their true potential and show the cricketing fraternity what their capable of rather than been tagged as the punching bag of INDIA and chokers when it comes to international tournaments.

  • IndianCoolGuy on June 8, 2013, 17:12 GMT

    Srilanka is lucky to play with week team in the tournament. Of course they have to work very very very hard to beat them. Mr Sanga has to play his role. This is ODI and suited for this style of batting, so SL fans can expect something from him. Australia has never looked so week as this time. That is again advantage for SL team. so if they put up 100% then they can be in semis. India will come in 1st position in group B and SL in second position in group A, so SL Vs India in semis..Fun to watch. I know India wins and enters into final..

  • on June 8, 2013, 17:17 GMT

    hope the opening pair comes off. it would be a great sight to watch the two tear bowling attacks apart

  • Master_Mihil on June 8, 2013, 17:31 GMT

    Allthough we have a very good batting line-up, we have not so champion bowling line-up. We need another Murali or Vass. Ever consistent Bowlers.

  • xylo on June 8, 2013, 17:40 GMT

    The biggest differences between the '96 spirit and now are that Ranatunga hardly spoke about Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana's tactics up until winning the World Cup, as opposed to waxing eloquently about Dilshan and Perera before doing anything noteworthy. Let's not forget that Sangakkara is possibly the only batsman who has the technique to adapt to these pitches. Sadly, Mahela is not. The other difference is that the '96 spirit was embellished predominantly in slow and low pitches in the subcontinent.

  • ChandraPrince on June 8, 2013, 17:49 GMT

    I wish all the best for Sri Lanka! But if they underestimate New Zealand that would be their self-undoing. One thing obvious I've know is you can expect exciting criket as long as Sri lankans out there on the field.

  • Baseball-Sucks on June 8, 2013, 18:10 GMT

    Well done Mr. Andrew..a fantastic article. "It's the height of impoliteness to decline a meal when visiting friends, but only after you have initially placed a soft refusal. " huh huh haaa..a good one. Anyway, this is a winning combination we've got here. An explosive opening pair, a solid middle order n great power hitters at the end. So, all those minnows like India better stop dreaming about the trophy coz Lions are on their way to own it. @IndianCoolGuy ; In your dreams pal... LIONS LEAD THE WAY !!!!

  • gsingh7 on June 8, 2013, 18:36 GMT

    so much hype for kusal and i am sure he will be exposed just like malinga and mendis were exposed by indian batsmen like kohli and dhoni. he will not make more than 5 runs. also 1996 played on flat sc track, these are bouncy tracks on which sll lost recent series (3-0) in aus where tracks were similar to england.

  • on June 8, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    Sri Lankas record in Australia and England in the recent past is better than at home. We have won 9 out of 14 games in Australia and more than 50% in England. Our record in bouncy pitches in recent past is better than at home

  • on June 8, 2013, 19:14 GMT

    Tisara Perera should come at No. 4. He dont waste balls. He either hit or get out soon. He should be given the bat early. He has won many matches for SL with the bat.