Sri Lanka may have won only one match out of seven in the Women's World Cup, but coach Hemantha Devapriya believes the experience of playing against the top seven countries was an invaluable learning curve.
"The tournament enabled our players to really see the standards of the other teams," he said. "It's a big demand for them to work hard and get into that level within a very short time. They have been talking to players from other teams and they know the areas they have to work on and they are ready to learn."
Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in their final league match before returning home, and Devapriya contended that they could well have beaten West Indies and India too if not for a couple of issues. "Overall I am happy with their performance but we could have done a little better if our middle-order batting and fielding came up to their capabilities.
"We were struggling to put 200-plus runs on the board and only two players had strike-rates of over 50 - Chamari Atapattu and Eshani Lokusuriyage," he said. "However, if you see during the tournament, we crossed the 200-run mark on four occasions and the girls have shown improvement in their strike-rates. Some batters' strike-rates have gone up to 85-90 and that is a good indication."
Where, in the past, Sri Lanka have struggled to the match power-hitting in modern cricket, at the World Cup, they had one of their key players, Atapattu, slam an unbeaten 178, with 22 fours and six sixes, against a full-strength Australian attack. Devapriya noted this as an improvement, but highlighted that there were other aspects of batting that needed work.
"We did practice a range of shots and I can see that they are now capable of using those shots," he said. "We worked a lot on playing off the back foot and how to use the pace of the ball especially the flat bat shot and the sweep shot and inside out shots. The players are now taking calculated risks and playing those shots little by little.
"We are concentrating now on taking more singles because the confidence is not there. We have given them a lot of singles targets, which quietly they are improving but still we are not up to international standards. Placing the ball and working with soft hands those are the areas we are working on."
Another lesson learnt was the importance of facing up against quality sides and battling it out. "We noticed that against sides like Australia, England, India and New Zealand very hardly do you get a loose ball," Devapriya said. "They are accurate and they are well ahead in the practical and mental game. Our players aren't powerful strikers of the ball. We have to put the players through special exercises to get more power into their shots and bowling. Fielding is coupled with fitness. The players now have a better understanding of what is required of them to become better cricketers."
As much as improvements need to be made to the current squad of players, Devapriya was conscious of highlighting the need to build the necessary infrastructure that will feed new players into the system.
"If you notice our present side has aging players," he said. "India has several players who played in the last World Cup because they introduced them as youngsters. Now they have a lot of experience behind them and their mental and tactical game is streets ahead of us. India has developed fast. They were a little ahead of us when we played them in the last World Cup, but now for us to get there it's going to take some time."
The first steps towards that goal have been taken. "Sri Lanka Cricket, in the recent past, has introduced an under-23 tournament," Devapriya said. "There was no tournament like that before. The selectors picked 60 players from the tournament called the development squad and after further trials pruned it down to 30. Of that we are hoping to get at least another 5-6 players from the emerging squad. We'll have to work closely with them and see how they can fit into the national squad.
"What is encouraging is leading girls' schools have now taken up to cricket. At the moment we have about 2500 girls playing and Sri Lanka Cricket is working hard to promote the game. If all goes well we might see some good players coming through the schools."
Sri Lanka are next scheduled to tour the Caribbean for a series of five ODIs in October. The tour, however, is yet to be finalized by the two cricket boards.