Graham Ford pleased with Sri Lanka's 'progress'
Sri Lanka had suffered series losses in New Zealand and India before being knocked out of the Asia Cup. They showed glimpses of improved form, however, during their World Twenty20 warm-up games against Pakistan and New Zealand, despite losing both.
Lahiru Thirimanne, a late change to the squad, top-scored for Sri Lanka in both games, while Dinesh Chandimal made a brisk 30 at the top against Pakistan on Monday. Following Sri Lanka's 15-run loss to Pakistan in Kolkata, coach Graham Ford said he was pleased with the intent shown by Chandimal and Thirimanne and believed a big knock from one of the batsmen or a substantial partnership could have paved the way for a win.
"I think we have been making good progress," Ford said. "If you look at the last game we controlled a lot of it. After 16 overs they [Pakistan] were 106. If we'd closed down a little bit better, we would certainly have had a good chance of winning that game.
"We showed some good positives and intent with the bat having lost [Tillakaratne] Dilshan early on. It's good to see [Dinesh] Chandimal and [Lahiru] Thirimanne play so well and we really played ourselves into a good winning position after ten overs, but in the next five overs - between 11 to 15 - we scored 36 but lost five wickets.
"We needed one of them to get us a 70 or 80 and that would have won us the game, or some sort of partnership in the middle which we failed to get. But apart from that, those four overs when we were bowling, and the five overs I've mentioned we played a lot better cricket than what we've been playing. The chaps are talking a lot and are really determined to put things right and I am seeing some green sheets of progress, which is pleasing to see."
While Ford admitted that Sri Lanka, who are defending champions, were not currently as good as the other teams, he believed they had it in them to trip up the opposition.
"We have to be realistic and got to understand that we are behind some of the teams at this stage, but it's not to say that we can't all come right very quickly," Ford said. "The lads are determined to work hard. It's more about putting 40 overs of good cricket together. The opposition teams are very good we just can't afford to drop our standards or drop our guard for a couple of overs because T20 cricket changes so very quickly. That's what happened against Pakistan. They were so behind us at the end of the 16 overs but the last four overs put the pressure back on us."
In eight matches against Full Member oppositions this year, Sri Lanka have lost seven. Ford pointed out that Sri Lanka's inexperience was one the major factors behind their recent run.
"If you are looking at a complete 40 overs you will have periods of guys who have played very few cricket at this level," Ford said. "It can mean that when it comes to pressure moments there can be some let-ups. But I am hoping that with every opportunity we have, the lads will put up much better performances with experience. You can't buy experience, it's something you have to guard and hand over."
Ford also welcomed the return of Lasith Malinga, who has been under an injury cloud after taking four wickets against UAE in the Asia Cup, and hoped that he would regain fitness. The fast bowler, who is suffering from a knee injury, joined the team at practice on Monday, but is still doubtful for Sri Lanka's opening match against Afghanistan on March 17.
"He is actually a match-winner we saw in that one game in Bangladesh, the way he bowled," Ford said. "He had not bowled competitively for four months and he had hardly done anything in between, but he bowled brilliantly in that game. The whole camp knows how big an influence he can be to the game. I am really hoping like crazy that he is going to be okay and get out and put in some special performances for the team."
What did Ford think about the pitches in India? "Mumbai had a bit of grass on it and the New Zealand bowlers had it easy but yesterday [Monday] the pitch was turning a bit," he said. "We would expect similar ones we played yesterday in the tournament. It might be different from venue to venue and bowlers will have to be a bit smart."