Sri Lanka v New Zealand, World T20 2012, Super Eights, Pallekele September 27, 2012

SL concern lies in middle order

With one of the strongest and most experienced top orders in world cricket, it is the middle order that need to find form for Sri Lanka to be a real force

For both sides, the script for the Super Eights opener in Pallekele will be a familiar one, though it is difficult to imagine either team will have been involved in a 20-over match fired by so much drama.

New Zealand first appeared to be flying towards 190 in the sixteenth over, before losing their way at the death against a Sri Lanka pace attack bowling with renewed vigour. Sri Lanka were then sauntering comfortably after a blazing opening stand, before Tim Southee's yorker barrage brought New Zealand howling back into the match. Lahiru Thirimanne then played what must be one of the gutsiest strokes ever played in this format to tie the match and yield the floor to the madness of the last-ball climax.

It is a match though, that Sri Lanka will feel they should never have allowed to get so close. They held their nerve better than New Zealand in the end, which proved the difference, but given the quality of the start they had had from their openers, the chase should have been nothing more than a cruise from 119 for 1 after 12 overs. Sri Lanka have bolstered their batting and finishing through Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis and Thisara Perera in the last few years, but in one match, they have suddenly allowed familiar doubts about their "soft" middle order to resurface.

New Zealand had smothered a similarly flourishing Sri Lanka chase in Colombo, winning that match by three runs, but this was all the way back in 2009. Dilshan had also starred on that occasion, leading off a chase of 142 with a 28-ball 57 that saw his side hit reach 75 in the eighth over to give his teammates a seemingly simple chase at a required run rate of less than six an over. That they very nearly let another match slip in the same way will irk Sri Lanka who now believe they have middle order substance to balance the star-power in their loaded top three.

They were up against death bowling of rare quality and intelligence from Southee, who incidentally, also performed an eerily similar resuscitation with the ball in the face of a Cameron White onslaught to tie a match in Christchurch. But given the depth in Sri Lanka's batting, and the fact that they have groomed two of the cleanest hitters in the game to provide exactly the kind of cool-headed finishes their strong start required, Sri Lanka will be disappointed to revert back to old habits.

Mathews' expansive ambitions were hamstrung by Southee's length, but in the last two overs, perhaps a little innovation was required to break the lock on boundaries. In the end, it was left to Thirimanne - an accumulator batting out of position - to show the kind of daring that sent the match into the Super Over. It is not as if Mathews lacks the ability to counter good bowling. Over the last two years he has proved repeatedly and resoundingly that he is the man-for-a-crisis Sri Lanka's limited overs side yearned for years before his arrival. But if he is to make good on his considerable promise, perhaps he should be disappointed he had only made 12 from the 11 balls he faced.

Likewise for Perera, who has improved significantly as a bowler, but has not yet built new strokes into his repertoire to play the sort of innings that was required. If he is to play as a specialist batsman, as he did in this match, perhaps the diligence that has seen him transform his other discipline would serve him well with blade in hand.

In the end Sri Lanka overcame their stutter, and a meandering tournament was given its first compelling encounter. In the Super Over, Lasith Malinga also proved that despite the aspersions that have been cast on his fearsomeness at the finish in recent months, he remains the force he has always been. But as a batting unit, Sri Lanka cannot continue to rely so heavily on an aging top three. Dilshan, aged 35, Mahela Jayawardene, 35, and Kumar Sangakkara, 34, contributed more than 80% of the team's runs on the evening, and if Sri Lanka are to live up to their favourites tag in World Twenty20, the youngsters will surely have to show their mettle as well. The core of Sri Lanka's future is in that middle order.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • associate cricket fan on September 28, 2012, 22:26 GMT

    thirimanne is not ideal for t20. i know he scored crucial boundary by playing that scoop shot. but it was a lucky shot. another day it would have gone to the fielder. we need some power hitting batsmen into the side.

  • Asitha on September 28, 2012, 18:59 GMT

    We are missing KAPU the best attacking payer in the country. NZ have the weakest bowling attack and we are lucky we are in the weaker group. If we are chasing anything over 150, and if Dishan out early game is over. To many accumulation bat higher in SL team. Maybe the accumulators will do reasonably well against weaker bowling sides like ZIM,NZ, WI or even against ENG and get full credit. But against top bowling sides like PA, SA and AUG we keep blaming youngsters?? I wonder what is PERARA doing in the team? he does not bowl, bat last over or don't bat at all. What a waste of talent. It seems like Senior kabbobs love to bat higher in t20.

  • Felix on September 28, 2012, 18:28 GMT

    When the top 3 batted for more than 10 to 12 overs, then send Angelo at 4. If the top 3 are down within 5 to 7 overs you can send Lahiru at 4. Whatever the case, Angelo must bat at 4, 5, or at 6. He must play before jeewan. Our top 3 can not still build an innings like Charles Johnson or Gayles of WI did in yesterday's match. Sanga's keeping is becoming poor day by day. mahela can use the bowlers more intelligently. Thisara must improve his bowling and must bowl at least 3 overs. Must be able to take wickets although can be little expensive, no point playing Rangana. He is a good test bowler and may be good for ODI. Give chances to Eranga. He can even replace Tisara or Lahiru depending on the pitch. Good luck SL.

  • Stuart on September 28, 2012, 11:27 GMT

    I feel Upul Tharanga in this team along with the 'Big 3', would have a much more formidable feel to the line-up. He has only played 10 T20Is and admittedly his record in this form doesn't look overly impressive, but he is a proved international player in limited overs cricket, and although Thirimanne is one for the future, I don't believe you should go into an ICC tournament with such an inexperienced line up.

  • Mathu1 on September 28, 2012, 11:19 GMT

    It is a big mistake SL selectors has done that thay kept Upul Tharanga away, He is the ideal man to hold the middle order and score runs. I do not understand what Angi is doing? He is not playing his roll in the middle order and shouldering the team as V.Captain. If top 3 collapse early... sorry guys. Game over!

  • Dummy4 on September 28, 2012, 9:52 GMT

    if u cant send thirimanna in when we need 7 runs per over, whats the use of having hm? yesterday we should have sent thirimanna instead for jeven mendis,, mahela making stupid decisions

  • Max on September 28, 2012, 9:32 GMT

    Good article. But I for one am not too worried about SL's middle order either in T20's or 50 overs cricket. Young guys are coming through. What is important is that the transition should be managed effectively & not have 4-5 World class/legends of the game retiring at the same time (ala Australia) without acclimatising the newer comers. A balance of 7-8 experienced players with 3-4 newbies should be maintained in general with a good pool of about 30 players to pick from in all forms of the game.

    Players like Mathews, Thisara, Chandimal, Thirimanne & Jeevan show enough promise. Where SL may falter is in Test cricket & in our bowling department. Akila D shows much promise as does Shamindra E but they must be nurtured carefully. Ajantha M also has to remain relatively injury free & up his game.

    SL selectors please stay away from players like the two Chamara's, Mubarak & Kandambi. Assess Maharoof or even Dilhara from time to time.


  • Dummy4 on September 28, 2012, 9:25 GMT

    Lahiru thirimanne is the best innovator in the side and should bat ahead of Mathews.In addition he is a fantastic fielder.Its mathews who has not pulled his weight in the batting Dept:. Takes ages to get going , which is frustating in a T20.He is the vice captain and should do better.

  • Anushka on September 28, 2012, 8:08 GMT

    of course, I don't see this is a big failure of middle three batted until 18th over. yeah, jeewan mendis went back early and we didn't see usual match finishing strokes from mathews yesterday .thirimanne and perera, I don't think any problem of them. thiri played vital boundary in the last over. and perera is a very good allrounder who has already proved that with bat and ball. We have really good prospects for future. they need to brush up the skills. failure of one match or two match didnt make any sense.but earliar I mean before few years back Sri Lanka had a big problem of our middle order. but things are now going to plus way. we need to be patience and see how these youngsters perform under Mahela, Sanga and dilly. never forget We have some born talent like chandimal, Bhanuka Rajapaksha,Dilshan Munaweera on the bench.

  • pranshu on September 28, 2012, 6:43 GMT

    In t20 lanka must go wid kapu in middle order. No doubt thirimmane is talented bt not a no. 7 or 8 for sure. Lanka is missing nd gonna miss kapu.

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