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Mickey Arthur: Watching Charith Asalanka play has been very rewarding

Sri Lanka coach calls on bowling unit to stick to the basics more consistently

Charith Asalanka stretches out to sweep, Sri Lanka vs South Africa, 1st ODI, Colombo, September 2, 2021

Charith Asalanka has had an impressive start at a tough number to bat in  •  Ishara S.Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

It's not often that a young Sri Lanka batter walks into the national team and begins to perform almost immediately, but seven innings into his career, this is what Charith Asalanka has been doing. A former Sri Lanka Under-19 captain, Asalanka began with scores of 0 and 3 in England, but has been far more assured at home, making scores of 38, 65, 24, 72, and 77 since then. Vitally - and here's another area in which he sets himself apart from most new middle-order batters for Sri Lanka - he has scored his runs at a relatively healthy strike rate of 90.29 - his 72 last Thursday coming off 62 deliveries, and the 77 on Saturday coming off 69.
All this has left coach Mickey Arthur impressed. Particularly because these runs have come from the No. 5 position.
"I think No. 5 is one of the toughest positions to bat in white-ball cricket, because you could be coming in at 20 for 3, or 180 for 3 - you've got to be adaptable," Arthur said. "Those two innings Asalanka's played have been very mature innings - ones he can be very proud of. Watching him play has been very, very rewarding, because I've seen how much work and effort he's put in, in the nets. It's not just the rewards he's got. He reads the situation of the game so well. I'm incredibly impressed with him."
A batter who hasn't fired over the past two series, however, is captain Dasun Shanaka. Although he was in outstanding form in the domestic T20 series played in August, Shanaka averages just 18.2, with a strike rate of 73, in his five innings as captain. Arthur expected him to turn things around, however.
"Dasun works extremely hard at his game," he said. "He's hitting the ball as well as I've ever seen him hit the ball, and I thought we saw glimpses in that 30 the other night. He was really disappointed to get out. He should have theoretically hit that one [a legside long hop] out of the ground. I've got no issues around his form at the moment, and no issues about the way he's leading the team. I'm confident there's a match-winning innings from Dasun Shanaka around the corner."
On the bowling front, Sri Lanka's spinners have not been quite as effective against South Africa's batters as the hosts may have hoped. Sri Lanka have played three specialist spinners (Wanindu Hasaranga, Akila Dananjaya, and Praveen Jayawickrama) in both matches so far, but South Africa's top order has scored heavily, particularly via variations of the sweep. Arthur felt his bowlers needed to bowl more challenging lengths, rather than focus on variations, in order to make scoring more difficult.
"It doesn't surprise me that they've played our spinners very well. I coached [South Africa's current head coach] Mark Boucher, and I know he was big on sweep, sweep, sweep. We were prepared for that. The wickets haven't gripped and turned as much as we were hoping for, but tomorrow maybe it'll grip and turn a little bit more. If we can just create some doubt - that's all we're wanting. We haven't been able to create that doubt because the ball hasn't gripped and turned as much as it did in the Indian series. We've got plans to make the score in different areas. If we can do that, we might create that mistake.
"I think something we've gone away from as a bowling unit is doing the basics. That was prevalent in our whole game on Saturday. Any emerging team has got to be ruthless on the basics."

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf