"We've been very clear in what we want our players to do in terms of our match practice, and then we've gone to nets after that, reviewed it and practiced it. So, I'm really comfortable now that we have got better at it. But it's certainly a work in progress. There's no magic wand here"Mickey Arthur
The year hasn't been ideal for Sri Lanka in terms of World Cup preparations. Three of their premier white-ball batters have been handed year-long suspensions, and another is just feeling his way back from injury. But head coach Mickey Arthur believes his side is coming together nicely, even if the batting remains a work in progress.
"I think the good thing with squad we've got at the moment is that we can be flexible, we can certainly be flexible in terms of how we set our team up," Arthur, speaking a day ahead of his team's flight out to Oman for the T20 World Cup first round, said. Sri Lanka have to slug it out with seven other teams to get to the main competition, featuring the top-eight teams and four qualifiers.
"I've been watching the IPL very intently because we're going to be playing on the same wickets [during the World Cup]. Looking at the conditions, we'll probably go two seamers and two spinners, and then our allrounders, and potentially another part time spinner from our top-order batsman. But we are flexible enough - if the wickets dry out considerably - to go with three out-and-out spinners."
Sri Lanka begin their T20 World Cup campaign on October 18 with the first of three qualifying games - against Namibia, Ireland and the Netherlands - but prior to that, they square off in two T20s against Oman on October 7 and 9. The team will also have two warm-up games, against Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea, on October 12 and 14.
While the calibre of the competition in these games might not be as high as what Sri Lanka re likely to face if they make it to the World Cup proper, at this point, simply playing some competitive cricket is arguably the most important thing. Especially in terms of getting the batting in gear.
"That [the batting] is an area we've worked extremely hard on over the past nine days. We've had three practice games, we've had some skill sessions to prepare players to sweep, we identified where and how we want our players to play. We've almost scripted a game," Arthur said. "I think if our batting clicks it'll give us a really good chance, because I think our bowling attack is very good and our fielding standards have improved dramatically.
"We've been very clear in what we want our players to do in terms of our match practice, and then we've gone to nets after that, reviewed it and practiced it. So, I'm really comfortable now that we have got better at it. But it's certainly a work in progress. There's no magic wand here."
One of key areas being looked at has been Sri Lanka's running between the wickets. In a team lacking big-hitters, Arthur believes an ability to limit dot balls would be crucial in being able to set and chase imposing totals. "That's something I've been working on for the last nine months with our group," he said. "It's easy to stand and try and hit boundaries, but having the ability to deflect a ball into a gap off a good ball is a real art. That's the real art of batsmanship. So, we've done a lot of drills during this phase, and we've harped on that."
That said, in Chamika Karunaratne, Sri Lanka do have one player capable of clearing the boundary comfortably - as showcased numerous times in the recent home series against South Africa. In a squad that allows for a lot of flexibility, Karunaratne would likely play a key role in helping up the tempo for the side when necessary.
"He will have a floating role," Arthur said. "What we've done over the last couple of training sessions and practice games is that we've given clear identification as to at what stage each player comes to the wicket, and what's the skill set required for that particular stage of the game.
However, without the suspended top-order trio of Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella, much of the batting responsibility would have to be shouldered by Kusal Perera, himself on his way back from injury.
"That [the suspensions] was a massive blow for us. You're talking about three of your top-five batters in the white-ball format there. That was a bitter pill to swallow for sure. You suddenly got back to square one in terms of your planning again," Arthur said. "It was really disappointing, but it led us to find the likes of Charith Asalanka, who has come on beautifully, Kamindu Mendis, who's playing beautifully, Pathum Nissanka probably got another opportunity again. It's allowed Dinesh Chandimal to come back into the mix. Bhanuka Rajapaksa to come back into the mix. So out of that adversity it's allowed opportunities to other players."
As for Perera, Arthur confirmed that the former skipper had been taking part in the intra-squad matches over the past few days and shown "absolutely no signs of injury" - though the plan was still to ease him back in to the side. "He has been working unbelievably hard with the physio. He batted today, he went out and setup the innings beautifully with young Pathum Nissanka. He played an exceptional innings and showed absolutely no signs of any injury. We'll still take it slow with him, because he's one of our major players.
"We'll have him in tip-top condition come the first game on the 18th. But how do we use him in the coming games? Perhaps he plays two out of four."