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Match Analysis

Mendis' pragmatism helps wounded Sri Lanka survive banana-peel beginning

They've battled injuries and unexpectedly slow pitches, but they've scrapped their way into the Super 12s

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Kusal Mendis scored 62 of his 79 runs between fine leg and midwicket  •  AFP/Getty Images

Kusal Mendis scored 62 of his 79 runs between fine leg and midwicket  •  AFP/Getty Images

As far as banana peels go, Sri Lanka found themselves on a big one, which in turn was placed on an oily surface. Playing the first round of the 2022 T20 World Cup, after coming in as Asia Cup champions, they struggled to adjust to a slow, two-paced Geelong pitch and ended up paying for it with a defeat to Namibia. Add to it a soft outfield that can leave you vulnerable to injuries.
Five of the Sri Lanka players have been injured so far. Dilshan Madushanka tore his quad during training on the eve of the first match. Dushmantha Chameera did his calf during the second game. Pramod Madushan and Danushka Gunathilaka injured their hamstrings. Pathum Nissanka has now gone for a scan of his groin.
Maheesh Theekshana feels the risk of injuries is high on this ground. "Even when we're batting, we can see how the ball is not going to the boundaries; the ball stops early," he said. "There's a lot of tension on the body. That's why there are more injuries."
Then, on the day after their defeat against Namibia, Sri Lanka saw a forecast for rain on Thursday, the final day of the first round, which left them even more anxious. And these are not conditions where you can blast away an opposition. You have to swallow your pride a little.
Sri Lanka fell back on conservative, unsexy cricket to get back on their feet. Their first win, against UAE, was centred on Nissanka's 74 at a strike rate of 123.33. In their next game, Kusal Mendis went at a run a ball for his first 17 balls against Netherlands. Just what you are taught not to do in T20 cricket. But they knew they couldn't make the conditions bend to their will.
"When we saw the pitch, I didn't think it would be that slow in the morning," Mendis said. "It's very slow, and the spinners turned the ball. You can't get to your normal game. Even if you jump out of the crease, it's a bit slow. So we had to bat normally for 10 or 12 overs. Because we did that, we were able to score heavily in the last five.
"[It's] a little bit different here. In Australia, you come expecting bounce and pace. Here you have to play your normal game in the first six overs. Then we can hit out in the last ten overs. In the first game, we struggled. The wicket was slow. We didn't know how to play on this pitch. The second and third game, I knew how to play here."
Often in T20s, not taking risks is the risk. Mendis was willing to take that risk. The pitch was perhaps slightly better than in the first two matches. Once he realised the slower ones were not gripping as much, Mendis played with the ground dimensions: short square boundaries and a long hit down the ground.
Mendis managed to hit 23 balls between fine leg and midwicket, which brought him 62 of his 79 runs, including all five sixes. This points to a few loose balls especially as some of the slower ones didn't grip. But it also points to ruthless execution and upscaling of his ambition as he went along.
Sri Lanka didn't quite avoid the banana peel but have managed to get back up. It has taken a heavy toll, but there's no time to lick their wounds. They will have to regroup quickly, adjust to real Australian tracks, and keep finding answers and replacements as they go along.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo