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Arthur on Sri Lanka's future: To strive for consistency 'in everything that we do'

Head coach rues 'missed opportunities' at the T20 World Cup; reserves special praise for Hasaranga

Mickey Arthur speaks in the Sri Lanka team huddle, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, T20 World Cup, Group 1, Sharjah, October 24, 2021

Mickey Arthur speaks in the Sri Lanka team huddle  •  ICC via Getty

If there was a word cloud for Mickey Arthur, speaking ahead of Sri Lanka's final World Cup game against the West Indies, 'consistency' would be right up there.
"Consistency in message, consistency in selection, and consistency in role clarity," Arthur said, identifying the three key ingredients he believes this young Sri Lankan side needs to regularly compete with the best in the world.
"I think in Sri Lankan cricket for years, it's the inconsistencies that we've had as a playing nation that has led to the team kind of not achieving what it should have. I guess it's led to people being a little insecure, not understanding their positions all the time. And then you get players playing for themselves a little bit because they're scared, that if they fail once and get dropped, when do they come back to the team? I'm just striving for consistency in everything that we do, and that's execution, messaging and selection. And then I think that we'll go a long way with the resources that we have."
Prior to the start of this World Cup, Sri Lanka had won just seven of their last 30 completed T20Is, dating back to the start of 2019 - three of which came in a single series against Pakistan. In that time the playing XI and squad have been chopped and changed significantly, the most drastic of which occurred earlier this year following the bans handed out to the trio of Kusal Mendis, Danushka Gunathilaka and Niroshan Dickwella - three ever-present members of the squad in the past few years - for breaching bio-bubble protocols.
However, as improbable as it may seem, from that nadir the selectors have seemingly happened upon a group of players to match their considerable talents - a group that Arthur is keen to keep together for as long as possible.
"I sit here really comfortable with our bowling structure," Arthur said. "Maybe one seamer can be a left-arm quick, but Dushmantha Chameera is world class at the moment. I love our two mystery spinners - they give us that little kind of mystique if you like - I think our fifth and sixth bowlers are adequate, so I'm comfortable with that. Our batting is getting better and better all the time, and I guess for me it's just striving to get that batting working as a well-oiled machine.
"We fielded well at times, and one of our goals and ethos as a team is to become the best fielding side in the world, but when I watched how clinical England were in that department - and England have showed stability within their core group for a long period of time - that's something that I'm striving for with this Sri Lankan side."
'Every time I see him, he excites me as a cricketer' - Arthur on Hasaranga
Among his wards, it's unsurprising Arthur reserves special praise for Wanindu Hasaranga - the newly crowned No.1 T20I bowler in the world - a player he has been almost smitten with since taking charge of the side two years ago.
"He just excites me. Every time I see him with a ball, with a bat or in the field, he excites me as a cricketer. I think I've said from the start, when I saw him for the first time, we've just got to keep supporting him cos he's a wonderful, wonderful player. He's riding the crest of a wave at the moment, he's in good form, he's a confident player, his confidence is sky high, and I just get really, really excited for what he's going to achieve for Sri Lankan cricket down the line.
"But it doesn't happen by chance, he works unbelievably hard at his game and doesn't leave anything to chance through his preparation. He's a genuine a world superstar at the moment."
Turning his attention to the current campaign, Arthur, while proud of his team's efforts, can't help but rue some of the missed opportunities. Sri Lanka followed an early win against Bangladesh with three straight defeats against Australia, South Africa and England. In each of those losses, particularly the latter two, Sri Lanka had moments where the game was there for the taking. Against South Africa, the match was virtually won before David Miller teed off in the final over against Lahiru Kumara, while against England, having had them on the ropes, Sri Lanka's seamers - Kumara again among the guilty parties - were unable to execute their plans effectively, though Jos Buttler being the batter is a heavily mitigating factor.
"With all the games before (in the qualifiers) it had actually been the pacers that had gone less than the spinners, so we kind of did our planning around what we thought of as our best attack - what we thought were our two best spinners and two best pacers," explained Arthur of the team's decision to persist with two seamers. "I still think it was the right way to go, I don't think we executed quite well enough with our seam bowlers, but our spinners were obviously amazing in that game.
"The disappointing thing for me is that in every game we've played, be that Australia, be that South Africa, be that England, we've had opportunities to win the game, and I continually stress with our boys that in any T20 game there's going to be an opportunity to win it, and if you've got the ball in the hand or if you've got the bat in the hand you've got to understand, you've got to identify that moment, and then you've got to be ready for it. A couple of moments have presented themselves and we just haven't taken them.
"Those missed opportunities are going to be the thing that haunts me when I look back."
'We're turning the corner' in T20Is
But while those results were undoubtedly disappointing on paper, they have sprouted a healthy dose of optimism in Arthur and others watching on.
"I said before the campaign that I thought T20 was our worst format, and we know that we're in a building phase as a cricket nation, but I think we're turning the corner. You always talk about in coaching, you know, 'roots to grow and wings to fly,' and I think we've allowed them those wings to fly.
"The guys are absolutely shattered, they've given their all for this campaign. We've been on the road for a long time now, we've been in bubbles over the last 11 months for about 240 days."
Mickey Arthur
"The Sri Lankan nation can be incredibly proud of the attitude, the intensity, and the work ethic of this group. They've been wonderful. We've shaken up the World Cup. We're not going to qualify (for the semifinals) this year, but Sri Lankan cricket is now in good hands."
Sri Lanka's next game against the West Indies won't have any context in terms of this tournament with both teams out of contention for a semifinal berth, but there is still the small matter of the impact it has on qualification for next year's T20 World Cup in Australia.
The 12 teams in the Super 12 stage of the 2021 tournament have automatic qualified Australia 2022, however, from those 12, only the winner, runner-up and next six highest-ranked teams as of November 15 will go straight through to the Super 12 stage of next year's World Cup, with the remaining four teams needing to play in the first round.
A win for Sri Lanka could potentially earn them the necessary ranking points for automatic qualification to the Super 12s, though Arthur says his players are simply focused on making one final push to go out on a "massive high," in a tournament that has left them "shattered" both mentally and physically.
"Every game for us is so important and I've stressed with the players, it's now about us preparing physically and mentally. The guys are absolutely shattered, they've given their all for this campaign. We've been on the road for a long time now, we've been in bubbles over the last 11 months for about 240 days. And these guys are shattered mentally and physically but they're up for tomorrow because they want to end on a high.
"Yeah, we haven't won games, but we've pushed sides. But whatever we've done we're going to be judged by what we do now in the last game. Our preparation has not changed. We've got all our bowling meetings, batting meetings, our analytical work - it's all being done in the next couple of hours. The guys are putting their minds to it for one last push, cos they want to end this World Cup on a massive high."