Despite Sri Lanka slumping to a second big defeat in the ODI series against South Africa, coach Graham Ford found a silver lining from their performance in Durban. Surprisingly, it was in their batting, even though Sri Lanka have yet to post a total over 200 in the series.
"I was quite excited with what I saw today. Unfortunately none of our batsmen converted starts but they certainly showed they have got the talent to play at this level and to make an impact at this level," he said. "I feel when I look at the number of games so many of them have played and the ages of some of them, if they are looked after and shown the right kind of support, in time, they could be a very good Sri Lankan side."
Kusal Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella and Dhananjaya de Silva are 22, 23 and 25 respectively and between them have played just 40 ODIs. None of them had been to South Africa before this trip and the experience they will gain from facing the moving ball on surfaces with good bounce and carry is something Ford hopes will put them on the right path for the future.
"For some of the guys it's a bit of a jolt to come and see how tough it is to play in foreign conditions and to play in South Africa," Ford said. "From that point of view, it's got to be a learning opportunity. If we are realistic and we look at the players we've got and the ages and the amount of games they have played, it is about learning and it is about improving. At times we've shown improvement, at times I have hoped for more improvement. On tonight's performance, I was quite excited about what I saw."
With less than six months to go before the Champions Trophy in June, where Sri Lanka will face South Africa in the group stage, Ford knows his team needs to develop fairly quickly. "It's pretty clear there is a lot of improvement that needs to take place. From what I saw from some of these young batsmen, they showed they can handle this sort of bowling attack," he said. "Conditions in England might not suit them as much as today's conditions so we will have to do a bit of thinking about balance of side and the way we can try and disrupt them in those conditions but we will have to improve a lot in all three disciplines."
For now, Sri Lanka have to find to find a way to deal with South Africa over the next eight days. They will play three more matches, all must-win, all without regular captain Angelo Mathews, whose absence Ford admitted has been felt. "In white-ball cricket, Angelo is a fantastic allrounder. He is the leader of the group so it is a setback but if I look at where we are at, it gives us a chance to groom a couple of other guys in the set-up and hopefully it will pay us back down the line."
As a result, Sri Lanka will look to the only other members of their squad who have toured South Africa before, stand-in skipper Upul Tharanga and senior batsman Dinesh Chandimal, to lead the resurrection.
Chandimal's form, in particular, has been worrying. He scored 85 runs in six innings in the Tests at an average of under 15, 33 runs in the three T20s and 22 and 36 in the two ODIs. But Ford has noticed the steady increase in Chandimal's contributions and suspects that something bigger and better is on the horizon now that the wicketkeeper-batsman has recovered from the thumb dislocations that sidelined him late last year.
"In recent weeks, he has started to look a lot better, started to time the ball and shown he is not far away," Ford said. "He started this tour a little under-done because of that serious finger injury but we all know what a capable player he is. He will get one score score hopefully in the next game and hopefully he won't look back."