The lack of experience in the top order may have played a role in Sri Lanka's poor batting performances in Bangladesh. And the door's not closed on the seniors who were left out of this series. These are the conclusions Sri Lanka's coaches have come to after a dispiriting series loss against Bangladesh (their first ever), in which a relatively green top order collapsed twice in pursuit of testing totals.
Sri Lanka had left out the likes of Angelo Mathews
for this series, and for batting coach Grant Flower
, having batters with experience in situations such as facing good spin bowling after early wickets had fallen, could have led to better results.
The absence of seniors has been made particularly stark by the excellent innings produced by Bangladesh's most-experienced players - Mushfiqur Rahim in particular, who has hit 84 and 125 so far in the series, to win both Player-of-the-Match awards.
"[The lack of experienced batters] looks like it's had quite a big impact at this stage," Flower said on the eve of the third ODI. "The young guys who were selected are good players, but are lacking a lot of experience. When you look at Mushfiqur's experience or Tamim Iqbal - they've played a hell of a lot of cricket."
Flower's comments chime with those made by head coach Mickey Arthur
earlier in the day, who had emphasised that although senior players had been left out for this series, they are not totally out of selection contention. (Arthur, to be fair, had said similar things about Mathews even before the series loss.)
"The door's not closed for anybody - certainly not," said Arthur. "We've started on a journey with what we think is a team that will play in 2023, but the door's no closed on anybody. Certainly some senior players can come at any given time depending on performances. We're trying to create depth within our side, so everybody puts pressure on each other."
Flower commented on Mathews specifically, whose omission always seemed the harshest, from among the senior lot. Not only was Mathews by far the most experienced player in Sri Lanka's ODI player pool, with 218 appearances, he'd also averaged 52.57 with the bat in the four years between 2016 and 2019, though with a strike rate of 79.61.
"Someone like Ange could come off and he is still a fine player," Flower said. "His record suggests that just recently in the contractual period, he's done ok. But over time, the selectors and director of cricket thought it was time to blood some new people. Whether or not they change their minds and ask Ange to come back, I'm not sure."
As far as the third ODI goes, Flower said he wanted batters to play more aggressively than they had in the previous two games. In both chases so far, Sri Lanka had stuttered in the early overs and allowed the required rate to climb rapidly past a run-a-ball early in the middle overs. They were chasing 258 and 247.
"Definitely take more calculated risks and play the way they do in the nets - that's what you work on. Good bowlers at this level are going to keep landing it on the spot. But you have to be proactive and move your feet, or play the odd sweep, or get deep in the crease. Mushfiqur, for example, is not a big hitter but he manipulates the ball brilliantly. The boys have got a great example playing against them."
Offspinner Mehidy Hasan Miraz
has been Sri Lanka's prime destroyer, taking seven wickets in the two matches so far.
"Mehidy's just got to No. 2 in the rankings
, so he's a very good offspinner. I think we've played him with too much respect."