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Feature

Is Sri Lanka's tame finish in ODIs a cause for concern?

To be a serious contender for the Asia Cup and World Cup, Sri Lanka need more firepower at Nos. 6 and 7

Dasun Shanaka couldn't connect with his sweep, Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka, Asia Cup, Lahore, September 5, 2023

Dasun Shanaka averages 25.43 at No. 7 in ODIs at a strike rate of 86.59  •  AFP/Getty Images

Thirty-eight overs into their innings, Sri Lanka were 221 for 4, with Kusal Mendis on 92, and Dhananjaya de Silva on 14. From here, teams frequently blast their way well beyond 300. Or, at least are expected to.
Just as a rough comparison, on Sunday, in Bangladesh's match against the same opposition, in the same stadium, they had had 222 for 2 on the board after 38 overs, and went on to post 334 for 5. Because they had eight wickets in hand, they had more batting resources to burn, of course.
Still, 72 balls left, your hitters to come in, this is when the best teams slip into their batting bully mode, and show those weakling bowlers who's boss. From this position, the best kinds of ODI finishers will take down opposition quicks, eat the spinners' sandwiches in front of them, and throw their lunchboxes into the trees so they can never be recovered. They send bowlers home with tears in their eyes and trauma that will take years to heal from, like the gods of ODI cricket intended. (These are the same gods who have taken reverse swing out of the game over the last ten years, so we know whose side they are on.)
But lately, Sri Lanka haven't had good bullies. Their top order has been decent. Charith Asalanka is a solid No. 5 batter - he averages 46.68 in that position, with a strike rate of 91.10.
But this is where the problems start. No. 6 is Dhananjaya de Silva, who for all his Test-match exploits, averages 26.04 and strikes at 74.93 in his current ODI position. And then there is the big one: Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka's captain, averages 25.43 at No. 7, and strikes at 86.59.
Their batting numbers pale in comparison to the best in the world. Hardik Pandya averages 38.50 at No. 6 and strikes at 102.52. David Miller averages 39.51 at No. 6 and strikes at 104.73. Jos Buttler's corresponding numbers at No. 6 are 36.00 and 109.85. These are serious death-overs bullies. The kind you fear will shove you into the urinal when you're not looking.
Both Shanaka and de Silva contribute with the ball, however. In the match against Afghanistan, de Silva closed out the game, though with no little help from Afghanistan's own lack of awareness that they could have surpassed Sri Lanka's net run rate even into the first ball of the 39th over. In Sri Lanka's previous match, Shanaka took the wicket of Towhid Hridoy, and all up, has wickets in six of Sri Lanka's last eight matches, even if he has not taken more than one in any game through that stretch, and even if many of those matches were in the World Cup Qualifier against weaker oppositions.