Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, 3rd ODI, Pallekele March 28, 2013

Sri Lanka's muddle in the middle

The team committed strategic blunders during batting and in bowling despite the richness of their all-round resources

A favourite criticism of schoolteachers, theatre critics and literary aficionados is that too much writing has "a beginning, a muddle and an end". After losing their first ever ODI at home to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka may reflect on the components of their team, and feel they too are guilty of confusing upheaval near the centre.

On paper, it would seem Sri Lanka are one of the most versatile ODI teams in the world. The XI that played Bangladesh on Thursday featured six bowlers capable of consistently filling their ten-over quota, as well as Tillakaratne Dilshan, who has lately been much better than just a part-timer. There are seven batsmen, and three capable hitters to follow - never have Sri Lanka fielded sides that bat as deep as their limited-overs teams in the last eight months. And their XI even boasts three of the best wicketkeepers in the country, and another, in Dilshan, who has done admirable service as a makeshift gloveman in the past.

The qualities of the three allrounders largely responsible for this wealth of options also appear ideally suited to the requirements of the side. In Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera and Jeevan Mendis, Sri Lanka have a batting allrounder who is a steady seam option, a bowling allrounder, whose biff is unrivalled in the team, and a legspinning allrounder who specialises in the tackling of spin bowling - a skill the remainder of Sri Lanka's lower middle order are yet to master with reassuring competence. 

Yet somehow, through both strategic blunders and a collective failure to perform, on Thursday, Sri Lanka seemed short of at least one quality finisher, a death bowler of heft, and an accurate spinner to rein in rampant batsmen after the Powerplays.

At Sangakkara's fall in the 36th over, Sri Lanka were 203 for 2, and were eyeing a target well in excess of 300. Mathews promoted Perera, then himself, then Jeevan Mendis ahead of the typically more sedate pair of Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne, in order to spur the death-over dash. Between them, the allrounders chewed up 24 deliveries for only 15 - a significantly slower run rate than every other batsman in the match, apart from the three men who were out for ducks. 

Their inertia would be justifiable - even advisable, given the conditions - had any one of them come good, and flourished until the end. Yet despite having all been picked as men who should close out an innings and having strode into a favourable match situation, they displayed none of the patience, responsibility or nous required of a fine finisher.

Perera's strongest scoring area may be over midwicket, but he is too clever a cricketer to be heaving across the line at a ball pitched so close to him, at speed. A lofted shot down the ground, or a shuffle forward to change the length might have been more appropriate. Jeevan Mendis played the sweep almost exclusively when he arrived, and though he paddled one reverse shot to the fence, he largely played and missed at full deliveries. Mathews has seen his side home in spectacular fashion in the past, but his consistency is not far from being questioned, and his advancing swing to Abdur Razzak, who bowled flat and fast, was sign of baffled brashness. From 203 for 1, Sri Lanka surrendered five wickets for 35 in eight overs, and allowed the visitors a foothold in the match.

"We were about 200 for two, but after that we were a little too hurried with the bat," Mathews admitted after the game. "Especially the middle order. Our aim was to get a lot more than 300 runs, and that's why Thisara Perera and I went in before guys like Chandimal and Thirimanne. I think we had a bit of a setback there, but the idea had been to get the maximum amount of runs possible."

Mathews insisted the bigger blame for the loss belonged with the bowlers, and perhaps he has a point, but he can hardly claim to have exhausted the resources at his disposal, in pursuit of the win. The Bangladesh spinners were far more comfortable on the surface than their seam bowlers, yet only Sachithra Senanayake was used out of the three slow-bowling options available to him. Mathews said his reluctance to try Mendis was because the ball was too slippery for spinners after the rain, but that argument holds far less water than the Pallekele turf. Senanayake was Sri Lanka's most economical bowler, both before and after the rain break, as well as one of their most penetrative. If Mendis was deemed unsuitable because legsbreaks are more difficult to control in the wet, Dilshan's steady offspin is unlikely to have been so susceptible to moisture on the ball. Instead, Sri Lanka stayed with Nuwan Kulasekara, who had had a poor run since his second over. 

The match was also the seventh consecutive limited-overs encounter in which Mendis did not deliver a ball. He has in the past been a useful cricketer for Sri Lanka in the ODI side, but he can hardly justify a place as a specialist batsman, if his captains are so unwilling to bowl him.

Sri Lanka's next ODI assignment is the Champions Trophy in June, and Mathews said his side had plenty to improve on before they launch their campaign in a major tournament. A more considered turn from his allrounders and a clearer, more flexible strategy on marshaling resources may be a major step to ensuring Sri Lanka maintain their impressive run at global events.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • darius on March 30, 2013, 8:08 GMT

    no matter how deep they bat but none can clear boundaries during slog overs effectively,i hv been saying this since long Mathews is not right guy to take SL forward ,he is so fragile, gets exhausted and sends wrong message to team mates.Thirimanne shud be appointed as captain.they lost the t20 WC final coz of this very weakness,but now since Mathews has become captain SL looks more vulnerable,appoint Thrimanne.....

  • Yasiru on March 30, 2013, 6:40 GMT

    Great things were expected from Mathews after becoming the captain of the team. And it feels as if he's trying too hard to prove that. I think it would be best if he tries a more conservative approach in selecting batting order and bowling options, until he is confident of his own tactics.. It seems now he's very eager to try out things which are quite alien to the standard norms in cricket. Consistency is what is required from a captain. Hope and wish he gets that habit soon, which was missing in his batting throughout his career...

  • Amir on March 30, 2013, 0:42 GMT

    SL fans are too harsh on Mathews. His plan would have worked but sometimes players don't always come through. Some SL fans can not accept defeat either and now are making excuses about rain , D/L, wet ball. I don't remember hearing these excuses after 1st ODI when BD had to deal with wet ball due to delays. BD did what was necessary to win and that's that. All of a sudden everyone has become fortune tellers and start predicting what would have happened if it had not rained. Go Tigers!!!

  • Prbath on March 29, 2013, 18:12 GMT

    @LeoE, you are absolutely right mate, i am glad atleast on other person realize that other than me,

  • Leo on March 29, 2013, 18:01 GMT

    If a side gets 300 in 50 overs and then has to play a virtual T20 game with the opposition having to face 27 overs, because of a computer calculation, that formula cannot be accepted. It gives a tremendous advantage to the side batting in T20 mode. Something needs to be done to make it a better balanced cricket match. Its unfair to force a bowler to deliver with a wet ball and keep the run rate down to 7 per over. The batting side has all ten wickets to score just a little over half the initial target of 300. The better side must win in any sport. But in limited overs cricket, you do not have to be the better side. If there is rain and this terribly ill concieved software is used to determine targets, the side batting second can win, even though they play horribly badly. Today's performance by BD would not satisfy their supporters, but they walked away with a win over SL who outplayed them in every facet. The Duckworth software should make the better team win. This is a mockery.

  • Prbath on March 29, 2013, 13:53 GMT

    To be honest if Bangladesh chasing 3003 of 50 over they were never going to win, only way they could beat sri lanka was that way ( rain effected match with the help of mr. D&L, and that's what exactly happened, nothing to worry, there were few mistakes made by Angelo, like having Third man and fine leg wider or having fine leg in the ring,Bangla batsmen scored more from the edges so he should had fine leg in the boundary and third man fine,

  • vivekanand on March 29, 2013, 13:33 GMT

    bangladesh definitely deserve credit for their win. but, having said that, srilankans committed lots of blunders: 1) no need to send T. Perera up the order, afterall Thirmane got them few runs at the end who was due to bat at that place. 2) no patience shown by perera, mathews or j.mendis while batting. pithch wasnt doing anything. dilshan at other end playing magnificiently, they only had to give him strike. 3) last over, 2nd ball and senanayake comes to bat. his duty is to give strike to thirmane to face last 4 balls. but what he does? goes for a big shot himself and gives easy wicket to razzak. sheer stupidity. players should understand their roles.

  • Fariha on March 29, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    I really think that angelo along with his teammates tried their best to prevent BD from getting victory.Actualy it was the opening stand of BD which got the target reduced to a reasonable point (D/L) but SL still had a good chance.However it was NASIR HOSSAIN who took the victory away from Lankans.and also credit goes to razzak for getting 5 wickets and preventing SL from achieving 330 runs. Overall i am happy to see that BANGLADESH can beat giants like SL without our key players such as Shakib,Tamim,Mashrafe,Nafees,Naeem,Nazmul etc however our pace attack looks horrible without Mashrafe

  • ramesh on March 29, 2013, 12:44 GMT

    Sometimes if you have too many bowling options, it would be always confusing the captain. There must be a role for every player in the team. May be Mathews is playing Mendis is a batsman who can finish the game rather than all rounder.

  • Raman on March 29, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    Mathews made tactical blunders that costed the match. Mr. Fernando's analysis and criticism is quite right.

  • No featured comments at the moment.