A Tall Order for ex-Kings

Sri Lanka’s bumpy ride to 2020 ICC T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka in 2020 ICC T20 World Cup

Sri Lanka: 2014 ICC World T20 Champions

Since the World Cup’s dramatic ending and with a glamour-less Test Championship in progress, the cricketing world has shifted its focus to the next big tournament. The global razzmatazz of Twenty20s will return with the seventh edition of the T20 World Cup scheduled for Australia in late 2010.

The top eight teams in the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 rankings on 31 December 2018 have automatically qualified for the main event – the Super 12 stage. Full Members Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and six other teams who will make it through from the ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier will compete in the first round to fill the remaining four slots of the Super 12s.

Rookies, Afghanistan have made it direct to the Super 12. Forced to play in a qualifying round, Sri Lanka will feel humiliated and embarrassed. Ranked world’s best in T20s from August 2012 to January 2016, they were the runner-up in 2009 and 2012 T20 World Cups, and the worthy winners in 2014!

Presently ranked eighth, Sri Lanka’s recent T20 results aptly sum up their plight. At the time of writing, with two games in their three-match series against New Zealand completed, they have lost ten of their last eleven T20Is.

Having left out experienced T20 specialists such as Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera for the series against the Kiwis, Sri Lanka seem keen to identify young talent ahead of the big event.

Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Dasun Shanaka and Isuru Udana have the ability and experience to perform consistently. The 21-year-old Avishka Fernando looks exciting and has the potential to be a future star. Can he and the other relative newcomers Shehan Jayasuriya, Wanindu Hasaranga, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara and Lahiru Madushanka deliver and cement their places in the coming months?

Before the New Zealand series, Sri Lanka’s T20 captain Lasith Malinga spelt-out strategy with the T20 World Cup in mind. “We cannot try out players close to the tournament. So this is the best time to experiment and get the right combination. In a situation like this, some of the seniors will have to sit it out. Therefore, during the first ten matches, we’ll have to check all the players in the squad and take note of them. In the next nine matches, we’ll have to play with one squad,” he said.

After New Zealand, Sri Lanka are scheduled to play 16 matches before the 2020 T20 World Cup. Indications are that Malinga will be retained as skipper. A T20 specialist, Malinga’s game awareness and tactical know-how have come in for high praise from some of his legendary former teammates. Regardless of his much-publicised spats with a couple of senior players, he appears to be the best bet to build a competitive squad for the next shortest format World Cup.

Upheavals are synonymous with Sri Lanka cricket ever since their 1996 triumph. There have been sudden, unexpected changes in the administration, selectors, coaching and support staff. Obvious personality clashes aside, so many different players representing the country over the last 2-3 years is a perfect example of how these changes have promoted various agendas and personal philosophies.

Though Sri Lanka have struggled for a fair while now in different formats, there’s talent on tap. Structural adjustments in governance are the need of the hour. That, in turn, would facilitate a healthy pool of up-skilled players ready to perform on the international stage, off the shelf.

Anyone willing to bell the cat, especially when national elections are around the corner? Your guess is as good as mine and the neighbour’s.

 

A revised version of this article appeared on the August 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine

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