'Sri Lanka on track for World T20' - Ford
Having been bridesmaids in two of the last three World Twenty20s, Sri Lanka have already set their sights on the next edition in Bangladesh in March. Coach Graham Ford will no longer be with the team when that tournament arrives, but he said Sri Lanka have begun down the path to success, ahead of the first Twenty20 against New Zealand. The match in Pallekele is the first of six scheduled T20s for Sri Lanka before the world tournament.
"As far as the T20 World Cup goes, the team has got a fantastic chance," Ford said. "They have played good T20 cricket for a period of time now, and are drawn in a favourable group. Plus the conditions should suit our style of cricket and the real bonus is that we'll have a series in Bangladesh just prior to the world tournament. There's lots to be positive about and I'm really looking forward to watching from a distance and seeing the boys lift the cup."
Specialised training sessions intended to spur innovative batting have been introduced during Ford's tenure, and they have begun to pay dividends with several batsmen having widened their stroke repertoire. Ford said the benefits from these sessions would be most keenly felt in the shortest format, where Sri Lanka have been the top-ranked side since last September.
"It is important to play with freedom and be inventive," Ford said. "Tillakaratne Dilshan was the leading example initially, of being able to play and be inventive - especially in T20 cricket. As we progressed, we realised that if we could have more guys able to hit the ball in awkward areas, it would make us a more powerful unit. If you've only got one or two guys who can improvise, if they don't have a good day we are going to come second on the day. It is also about being confident about improvisation. It's no good suddenly trying to play an invented shot which you have never practiced."
Sri Lanka's selectors have picked five spin-bowling options in the 15-man T20 squad, and Ford said this too was a strategy devised with the World T20 in mind. In addition to frontline spinners Sachithra Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis, spin-bowling allrounders Ramith Rambukwella and Seekkuge Prasanna have been named in the squad. Dilshan's offspin has also been increasingly used in internationals over the past year.
"The selectors have had a look ahead and they are thinking about possible conditions in Bangladesh, where preparing spinners is important. The spinners are all quite unique. A couple of them are spinning allrounders, and in T20 cricket, allrounders are important. We've got a number of seamer allrounders, but maybe down the line, conditions are better suited to spin allrounders. They are just having a look at covering the options at the moment."
Ford also lauded the quality of the cricket produced by New Zealand's visiting side, despite the absence of several key players. The visitors drew the ODI series 1-1.
"I am not all surprised (the way) New Zealand have performed. There were a few comments about them not having a full-strength side, but I am very much aware that their cricketing depth has increased massively over the last couple of years. They played an under-strength team in South Africa in ODI cricket, and they beat South Africa, which doesn't happen that often. They also beat England in an ODI series in England. They are a dangerous team and they've got some very good one-day and T20 players."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here