"Both Lahiru [Kumara] and Dushmantha [Chameera] were a part of our camp, and they both managed to complete their bowling quotas without an issue. I think they're well prepared ahead of the World Cup"Dasun Shanaka
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Roughly around this time last year, Dasun Shanaka was gallantly bigging up his side's chances at the T20 World Cup - though, in reality, it was a sentiment borne more out of hope than any real confidence. "If our guys perform to their strengths I feel they can go a long way in this tournament," he had said back then. It didn't end too well for them.
Just a month and a bit ago, Sri Lanka had been soundly beaten by Afghanistan in the 2022 men's Asia Cup curtain raiser, and were on the verge of elimination. That story ended on a fairy-tale high. Fast forward to the present, and Shanaka's words have scarcely changed, yet the sense of belief in them could hardly be more different.
"If we make the right decisions on the day and execute our plans, I'm certain we can come out victorious," he told a packed media room at the Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters on Friday, in the final press interaction prior to the team's departure to Australia for the 2022 T20 World Cup. "The confidence level is definitely higher [than at the last World Cup], but my concern has always been the process. Even at the last World Cup, I felt we had the talent to at least make the semi-finals. The important thing is your ability to play and deliver on the day."
The Sri Lanka squad is heading out to Australia two weeks before their opening World Cup first-round game against Namibia on October 16. They were at a skills-intensive training camp in Kandy in the last week of September. Both point to the level of preparation this Sri Lanka side is undertaking.
This extra game time - crucial time - in Australian conditions can only help. Head coach Chris Silverwood, who could hardly have dreamt of a better start to his term in the job after taking charge some six months ago, outlined how he hoped to use this period to work on skills that would be of particular use in Australia.
"With the bowling we're still working on yorkers, to make sure we can be successful on Australian wickets, to make sure we have the skills to back our plans up," he said. "We have a couple of warm-up games before the Namibia game. We'll play match scenarios amongst ourselves before that to make sure we can control the environment that we're training in.
"We're actually very specific about what we're trying to train. For example, we did a Super Over up in Kandy, which is all in good fun, but it highlights where it can be a bit chaotic in the Super Over. It happens very quickly, and we have to make sure we keep a level head.
"Then the dimensions of the grounds in Australia - they have some big grounds - we'll have to learn to cope with them. We have to make sure we get the distance right off the boundary to cut the angles down and get the guys used to doing that."
The first step to building on the Asia Cup success is identifying the areas that still need improvement. Much of Sri Lanka's Asia Cup win was built on a platform of winning the toss and chasing, and despite setting a total and defending it in the final, it's not quite in their comfort zone.
"There's always going to be areas to improve - I think setting totals, something we did really well in the final [of the Asia Cup] but something we haven't done a great deal of," Silverwood said. "So it's something we're going to have to think of."
While success leads to self-belief, it also brings expectation. And after a long time, a Sri Lankan team heads to a major tournament backed by genuine excitement and, whisper it quietly, optimism.
"I tend to look at it differently. There are expectations obviously back here at home in Sri Lanka. But I think the energy that we're gaining off the fans is superb, and I think the boys are feeling it. I think we can use that as a real positive," Silverwood said. "The fact that everybody's behind us, the nation is behind us, and we're out there trying to bring a smile back to everybody's faces, for me it's a positive. Something we can use as energy, and something we have used as energy in the dressing room already."
For Shanaka, it's a matter of resetting from the high of the Asia Cup win and refocusing on the fundamentals that got them there.
"Winning the Asia Cup was good, but it's just one tournament," he said. "We're not thinking about that anymore, that's in the past. Because if we keep focusing on that then we can't look forward and perform as we need to.
"In the camp [in Kandy] every player put in a good effort. I was worried that there would be some guys who'd be a bit relaxed after winning the Asia Cup, but it wasn't like that. Everyone practiced with even more intensity than usual, and I'm confident that we can put in good performances at the World Cup."
Among those present in the camp were fast bowlers Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara, who along with the young Dilshan Madushanka make up the quickest trio of fast bowlers Sri Lanka have ever had at a major tournament, with each capable of speeds above 140kph. While the fitness of the first two had been of some concern, Shanaka confirmed the pair had come away from the camp in fine fettle.
"Both Lahiru and Dushmantha were a part of our camp, and they both managed to complete their bowling quotas without an issue," he said. "I think they're well prepared ahead of the World Cup."
On the whole, the mood in the Sri Lankan camp is understandably as high as it's been in quite some time, with Silverwood particularly pleased by the camaraderie between players, as well as their willingness to "learn, adapt and try new things". "I hear a lot of people talking about how together the guys are and you can really feel that from the inside as well."
And it's that feeling that has made this Sri Lanka side heading out to Australia, while far from the finished article, one that seems to be gradually evolving into something more than the one that went to the UAE both last year and last month.