New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2012-13 October 28, 2012

Time for Sri Lanka's youngsters to come of age

New Zealand seem the ideal opposition for youngsters like Angelo Mathews to take charge of the team, before the sterner challenge in Australia
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When Angelo Mathews strode to the crease in the World Twenty20 final, the Premadasa still believed. There were plenty of runs yet to make, and the required run rate was beginning to wrap its tendrils around the innings, but something about the new man in the middle inspired confidence. Mathews had scythed Sri Lanka out of thornier tangles before.

But this time it was his anxious dismissal that ushered in the panic that asphyxiated the middle order. When Darren Sammy brought fine leg in after bowling three consecutive dot balls to Mathews, the batsman should have become aware of the trickery that was afoot. Instead, he dove into the trap. Having goaded Mathews into playing the scoop, Sammy bowled an off cutter, and ball gripped on the dry surface, evaded Mathews' stroke, and clattered onto the stumps. Fifteen balls later, Thisara Perera and Jeevan Mendis had also lost their wickets, mindlessly. It was a dispiriting display from a middle order that forms the core of Sri Lanka's future.

Mathews is now officially a captain, perhaps in all formats from February, and he and Thisara Perera are now too experienced to claim youth as justification for their failures. Both men, and others like Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne have proved capable and have built encouraging reputations, but they haven't yet taken full ownership of a team that will soon be theirs. They are not yet thinking, planning or performing on the level their seniors operate on. A home tour against New Zealand is their chance to show how much they have grown, and crucially, that they are ready to shape the team they play in, rather than simply being shaped by it.

In many ways, New Zealand is an appropriate foe against whom Sri Lanka's youngsters can test themselves against. The visitors are not so soft that any battle scars earned will be of no value but they are also not so brilliant that every minor flaw in developing techniques will be exposed and exploited.

New Zealand have no bowlers that will frighten Sri Lanka's youngsters, but the hosts can be assured that on this tour, they will be worked over, analysed and plotted against. Tim Southee bowled one of the spells of the World Twenty20 to force a tie against Sri Lanka in their match in Pallekele and Jacob Oram has also had success in Sri Lanka recently. Adam Milne has pace, though his talent may be too raw to be classified as a major menace, and Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult will provide a robust challenge in the Tests. New Zealand's batsmen aren't flawless either, but they are good enough to scourge poor bowling, and Kane Williamson is one of the better players of spin from outside the subcontinent.

The stakes are slightly higher because the tour is played at home, and there are no ready excuses should Sri Lanka's younger crop fail. There is pressure to succeed, and familiar pitches and venues at which to perform. The stage is almost perfectly set for them to take the baton from the seniors and bring Sri Lanka's post-Murali transition phase to a close.

The youngsters are also better placed to help the team overcome the disappointment of another major-finals loss. Watching another team lift the trophy in Colombo would have hurt more than any of the other runners-up medals, and the loss would have been hardest on Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who for all their success, know that they are fast running out of chances to win a world title. When Sri Lanka lost their last final in 2011, the team couldn't shake their funk for eight months, when they seemed rudderless and listless in all three disciplines. Mathews and company can harbour better hopes for their own futures, and it may be upto them to provide the positivity and energy that will help Sri Lanka focus on a new challenge.

Beyond New Zealand, an Australian summer beckons. It is perhaps Sri Lanka's biggest tour in years given the enthusiasm most Sri Lankans have for seeing their side get the better of Australia, and the fact that they will play their first Boxing Day Test since 1995 - when Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled by Darrell Hair. Some of the seniors may not have enjoyed previous tours there, but Mathews, Chandimal and Perera have already shown they are not daunted by a little extra pace and bounce. If they can emerge from the New Zealand tour with form behind them, Sri Lanka's hopes of a maiden Test win in Australia will be boosted significantly.

Before then though, there is plenty to achieve. Jayawardene and Sangakkara have shown no signs of slowing down yet, but they have repeatedly shown a desire to unburden themselves of leadership to focus on giving whatever they have left with the bat. Sri Lanka's youngsters must come into their own, before the reins are upon them.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srini_Indian on October 30, 2012, 14:24 GMT

    @SL fans: I agree with you, SL won't be whitewashed 4-0 because its only a 3 match test series, lol. It is funny actually considering SL haven't won anything significant but still there fans have big mouth.

  • miles100 on October 30, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    Chandimal is the most consistent young batsmen that SL currently has. He in fact did not do well in recent matches and was kept away from the playing eleven without a delay. Back then Mubarak on the other hand messed up almost every match and they continue to keep him.The differences between Mubarak and Dinesh are, Mubarak came from an affluent family and chandimal came from a very poor family in the village. Dinesh has more courage to perform under pressure, Mubarak used to look like a mouse under pressure even though he seems like a friendly and calm character. if they can identify the braveness of a player blended with a little bit of talent, SL selectors will get the best youngsters to the side.

  • dummy4fb on October 30, 2012, 8:59 GMT

    Talent matters, but consistency matters most, that's what the Sri Lankan youngsters lack. Chandimal is not a consistent performer like Kohli is. Rahul Dravid didn't possess natural talent like Sachin but he was highly consistent.

  • anver777 on October 30, 2012, 6:10 GMT

    Youngster Dinesh Chandimal must be a regular player for SL in all formats.... he's so talented & one of the future stars of SL cricket !!!! strangely he warmed the bench during WCT20..... the selectors should have tried him at least in couple of games instead of Thirimanne or Jeewan mendis !!!!

  • yohandf1984 on October 30, 2012, 5:52 GMT

    Do we really need 5 ODI s here ? I d prefer to have 3 ODI s with 3 Tests .

  • miles100 on October 30, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    Correction from my last comment about SL fast bowlers should swing bowl from 135 to 145 KPH in slow wickets. I think swinging at 145KPH in slower wickets regularly can be difficult and not practical.I was meant to say they should have bowlers who can swing both ways at 130 to 140 KPH in slower wickets regularly with other variations. My fast wicket bowler's requirement for SL will stand.Also when I talked about young pinch hitters, I was also meaning technically correct young batsmen who can start career at age 18-19 and open till they become mature enough(24 -25) to be promoted to the middle order.Opening and No:7 are the best positions for young batsmen to start careers as there are less pressure in those positions However you not only need technically correct batsmen to face the new ball, but also batsmen who can take on bowlers over their heads or along the ground hard.

  • Rajesh_india_1990 on October 29, 2012, 19:04 GMT

    other teams should take a leaf out of randhiv and sanga's book for 'how to bowl a no ball when a batsman is on 99'..hahaha..lolz

  • dummy4fb on October 29, 2012, 18:36 GMT

    It is good that Mahela and Asantha de Mel have introduce two new under 19 spinners Akila Dhananjaya and Tharindu Kaushal to the SL squad. How about under 19 SL batsmen? I am quite sure that Indian under 19 batsman (Captain) Unmukt Chand will be in the Indian squad for the series against England. Virat Kholi has rapidly matured enough to be in all format of the game.Legend Tendulkar is reaching the age 40

  • Head_gear on October 29, 2012, 15:40 GMT

    I do agree with yoker and miles. Indeed Tisara should be give a chance to open and Kule to bat in middle order,Mathews does have such type of mind that he does implement new tactics in batting order.Sri Lanka Haven't produced a big hitter like Tisara after the departure of Sanath.If Tisara & Munaweera are given a chance to open it can be a new begining for SL. Chandimal to follow and Mathews to bat @4.Number 5 should have been Kapu I guess. Kapugedara had done reasonably well during the SLPL and according to me he should have been given a chance.But the best spot for him in the team is no.3 i guess so Chandimal will have to go for no.5 then.Here Tirimanne will bat @ 5 and Jeewan Mendis to follow him.5 & 6 may differ.Kule,Sachithra,Akila and eranga Malinga to follow. As miles did say there must have been someone who could bowl 145kmph consistantly.Pradeep is an example.& During SLPL a new comer called Dushyantha Chameera showed early signs for a strong paceman.they must be prepared.

  • Mathu. on October 29, 2012, 15:03 GMT

    Hope physio has done his job and SL bawlers will not have early injuries in this series...

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