Will The Lions’ Roar Count?

A preview of Sri Lanka’s chances at the World T20 Cup 2021

Sri Lanka's T20I series win against a depleted Indian side at R Premadasa Stadium

Sri Lanka players celebrate the rare 2-1 T20I series win against a depleted Indian side at R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 29 July 2021. (© AP)

Come October and in the First Round of the World T20, Sri Lankans will lock horns with the Dutch, the Irish and Namibians in Group A. In Group B, the tussle would be between Bangladeshis, Scots, Papua New Guineans, and Omanis. The two top rungs in each group will proceed to the Super 12’s.

Plenty of off-field distractions, coupled with an inconsistent recent track-record; the outcome of their team’s best efforts in the tournament, may be akin to the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, in the minds of Sri Lankan fans, right now.

Having said that, Sri Lanka won only 13 T20Is out of 48 played (27%) since the last T20 World Cup in 2016. In 2021, they have fared marginally better, by winning three games out of 9 so far. The wins include one in the 1-2 loss against a strong West Indies.

Little wonder then, that non-performance of seniors in the string of losses forced the selectors to show the door to Malinga, Mathews, Thisara and Chandimal. However, despite the changes, including a new captain in Kusal Perera, Sri Lanka found midsummer conditions too hot to handle, and were humbled by a power-packed England, 3-0.

Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis and Dickwella then needlessly played truant to add fuel to the fire by breaching the bio-bubble in the UK, and getting banned from international cricket for twelve months.

The pack was shuffled again in July, for the white ball confrontation with India. Searching desperately for results, Sri Lanka opted Dasun Shanaka to take over the white-ball reins from Perera, who anyway wasn’t available due to injury. With regular Indian captain Kohli leading the Test side in England, Dhawan captained the next best. They too were severely hamstrung by nine players isolated, after the first game; thereby being forced to line-up only five recognised batters for the last two T20Is.

Amid the emotional distractions centered around player compensation, continuity, leadership, communication and other administration issues, an inexperienced but committed Sri Lankan side finally won a T20 series since 2019, beating a depleted Indian team 2-1.

Be that as it may, in the World T20’s, 11th ranked Netherlands will be Sri Lanka’s (ninth-ranked) toughest opponent in the First Round. The Dutch have qualified by winning the Qualifier tournament by beating all teams, including Ireland and Namibia, save for Papua New Guinea.

On the other hand, 12th ranked Ireland in their last three T20 series have drawn against the West Indies 1-1 and lost to Afghanistan and South Africa 2-1 and 3-0 respectively. Sri Lanka surely would fancy their chances against those two, and the 18th ranked Namibia in the First Round.

If Sri Lanka were to top Group A, they will be in Group 1 in the Super 12’s, which includes West Indies and England, arguably two of the top three contenders. The other favourites India, will feature in Group 2. Interestingly, if Bangladesh finishes on top in Group B and Sri Lanka finish second in Group A, then Group 2 in the Super 12’s will resemble an Asia Cup with New Zealand also thrown in for good measure.

Sri Lanka’s bowling is respectable, led by Chameera (pace) and a match-winner in Hasaranga (spin). However, since of late, it’s the batting that is their Achilles’ heel. Since the morale-boosting win against India, if they were to up-skill and fine-tune their young side in the upcoming three-match series against South Africa, Sri Lankans can breathe free in expectation of a competitive performance in the tournament.

Your guess is as good as mine; but it looks a tall order for the former kings to proceed beyond the Super 12 stage.

Sri Lanka's Recent T20 Record

LIVING magazine coverWritten in August 2021 by Ranjan, this article appeared in the September 2021 issue of the LIVING magazine.

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