Lanka de Silva, coach of the Sri Lanka Women's team, said he will be banking on spinners, particularly left-arm spinners Inoka Ranaweera and Sugandika Kumari, to lead the side's attack in their upcoming ODI series against Australia Women, which starts from September 18. The teams are scheduled to play four ODIs and a T20 international, and three of the four ODIs will be counted for points in the ICC Women's Championship.
Australia, who are leading the Championship table with 24 points, are one point away from gaining automatic qualification into next year's Women's World Cup. Sri Lanka, however, are placed at the bottom of the eight-team table with five points from 15 matches. While the top four teams gain direct entry into the World Cup, the bottom four teams will have to play the ICC Women's World Cup Qualifier with six other regional qualifiers. The top four teams in the Qualifier will then advance to the World Cup.
"The Australian line-up has plenty of right-handers, and Inoka and Sugandika, our most experienced spinners in the side, should make it difficult for them," de Silva said before the first ODI in Dambulla on Sunday. "We also have the off-breaks of Inoshi Priyadharshani and we are banking on the three of them to deliver."
De Silva stated that unlike in the past, the team had prepared for the series well in advance. He said the emphasis during selection had been on picking specialists, and, like the bowling attack, he picked out the players who would take on the batting responsibilities.
"We picked the squad of 14 players one month ahead and they have been practising together as a team," he said. "We played six practice matches and managed scores between 215 and 220 in most of them. If we can come up with similar scores against Australia, we have the bowlers to do the job for us.
"The selections were also made with emphasis on specialists rather than allrounders who can do a little bit of both. We have selected seven batters in our squad of 14 and identified captain Chamari Atapattu, Prasadani Weerakkody, Chamari Polgampola and Dilani Manodara as the batting specialists who are expected to put the runs on the board for us."
De Silva, who is eight months into his two-year contract as coach, said that the team had learnt a great deal from the mistakes of this year's World T20 and had rectified them to some extent. Sri Lanka failed to qualify for the semi-final of the World T20 in India earlier this year, after a third-place finish in Group A, behind Australia and New Zealand.
"We showed great improvement in our T20 rankings, moving from eighth to fifth position. In this series, we expect to move at least one rung up the ladder in the rankings," De Silva said.
Atapattu, leading Sri Lanka in the absence of Shashikala Siriwardene, said the series against Australia was an important one in terms of preparations for the 2017 World Cup.
"We are sad that our captain Shashikala (Siriwardene) is out of this series due to a back injury, but we have a good team consisting of experience and talent," said Atapattu. "We have selected very talented players as new caps. Although they lack experience, if they perform to their potential, we can still pose a big challenge to Australia.
"The Australian players are physically stronger than us and they can go for big hits whenever needed, but we are confident that our spinners will try and keep them under the 200-run mark as much as possible."
Despite the huge gap in rankings between the two sides, Australia captain Meg Lanning was wary of the conditions.
"We know that we will have a tough time here with the conditions, but hopefully, we will give a good performance. This is a good test for us to see how we can adjust to these conditions," Lanning said.
The first and second ODIs of the series will be played in Dambulla on September 18 and 20, while the third and fourth matches will be held at the Khettarama in Colombo on September 23 and 25 respectively. The only T20I of the tour will be played at the SSC on September 27.