Once the land of Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralidharan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Chaminda Vaas, Sri Lanka’s decline in world cricket, over the years, has been staggering. Their awful run continued in England as they were whitewashed in the three-match T20I series.
Sri Lanka’s build-up for the T20 World Cup started against the number one side in the world – England. It was supposed to help them evaluate where they stand, and Sri Lanka’s incompetency again came to the forefront as they weren’t even able to challenge the hosts, let alone come close to winning even a single game. However, the series did help Sri Lanka ascertain some positives while also revealing the gaping holes that they need to fill in before they take on another giant, India, at home, next month. Let’s take a look at the major takeaways from the recently-concluded T20I series.
The hideous state of the batting
This was arguably the worst batting display by any side in a T20I series in England in the longest time possible. Scores of 91, 111, and 129, on some very good batting tracks against a relatively average bowling attack, was simply unacceptable. There were opening failures, middle-order collapses and, literally, nothing worked for the tourists. Barring Shanka, no one could even reach 40 across three games, which was again abysmal. Sri Lanka’s opening partnerships ensured that they always started on the wrong footing as they added 3, 6 and 4 for the first wicket in the series. The experienced trio of Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, and Niroshan Dickwella were also not up to the mark in the middle-order. Skipper Perera got off to good starts but couldn’t surpass the wrist-spin challenge from Adil Rashid. Sri Lanka will need something exceptional from their batting if they have to compete with India’s second-string bowling attack, which is very decent on paper.
To put things into perspective, no team has done poorer than Sri Lanka in the last two years, when it comes to batting average (17.41) and strike-rate (110.40) among the top ten teams in T20 internationals. Notably, no other side has averaged less than 20, while the second-worst strike-rate by any side has been 124.11, which is far better than Sri Lanka. None of the top five sides has had an SR of less than 137.04, which shows the disparity between the Lankan team and the world.
The need to bat Wanindu Hasaranga higher and utilize his potential
Wanindu Hasaranga added more glory against his name as he impressed one and all with his remarkable bowling displays, especially in the first two T20Is. His prowess as a wicket-taking and an accurate leg-spinner has been established for a while now. But, despite having an average batting unit, Sri Lanka have underutilized a very talented hitter like Hasaranga. He has never batted above #7 in T20 internationals, which was the case in this series too. And Sri Lanka are settling for less with him if they think he doesn’t deserve to bat higher or isn’t good enough to be used as a floater. In the second T20I, there was a lot of merit in sending him at #5 after Perera got out with Sri Lanka struggling at 68 for 3 in the 13th over.
The Bangladesh tour was a testament to his batting abilities. He had hammered 74 off 60 deliveries in the first ODI that included five sixes and showcased his ability to clear the fence. In fact, he had put up a magnificent show in the intra-squad game too, where, batting at #3, the southpaw had struck 79 off 39 with a strike-rate of 202.56. With Sri Lanka’s batting already underperforming, there is room for experiment, and it’s high time that Sri Lanka unlock the full potential of someone as brilliant as Hasaranga. He has it in him to become of the best spinning all-rounders in T20 cricket.
The X-factor of Dushmantha Chameera
Tall, slippery, raw pace – Dushmantha Chameera has been recognized as one of the outstanding bowling talents from Sri Lanka. But despite making his debut way back in 2015, he was never consistently able to deliver for his side. The right-armer was among those promising Lankan pacers who excited only to disappoint later. However, right from the Bangladesh ODIs, he has started to show that he’s finally ready to take the world stage by storm. He had taken nine wickets in three ODIs with a five-for to his credit against Bangladesh. And in this series, he continued to build on his performances. The lanky pacer again impressed with six wickets in three T20Is against England, emerging as the leading wicket-taker from either side. He also had an exceptional economy rate of 6.26 per over in the series.
Chameera was at the top of his game in the third T20I, where he took four wickets in the death overs and ensured that England were restricted to 180 after they threatened to cross the 200-run-mark easily. And all his scalps were from England’s meaty top six, showing his mettle. He was very decent with the new ball as well, as he gained movement and exhibited a sharp bouncer. In the death, it was his mix-ups that did the trick. It’s bound to happen when a pacer who can clock in the 140s starts delivering effective slower deliveries. The effective mix-ups helped him make English batters dance to his tunes and make the world take notice of him
Prioritizing fitness will reap long term benefits
There is something about defats that ruffles a lot of feathers. It often leads to a state of abject loss of hope and a disappointment that isn’t easy to overcome. But being overreactive is the last thing that Sri Lankan cricket needs at the moment. Sri Lanka’s shambolic display in England has invited a furore for the team. Even one of the good developments in the country – emphasizing fitness – has been criticized, given it has come at a cost. For instance, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, an attacking southpaw, who averages 28 and has an SR of 130.84 in T20Is, was omitted from the side as he had failed the fitness tests, outside of which he could have made it to the XI easily. Even Avishka Fernando was ruled out of the side for the limited-overs series in West Indies and then the Bangladesh ODIs as he had failed to pass the fitness tests.
As inconvenient as it may seem to the Lankan fans right now, it’s a step in the right direction. The importance of higher fitness standards and building a young team will help in turning around Sri Lanka’s dwindling fortunes. Prioritizing fitness remains a constant feature in all the top-ranked sides in the world. One can even see the example of Indian cricket and how the fitness revolution has helped the side get their best game forward across formats as controversial as tests like Yo-Yo were in the beginning.
Also, it’s not like Sri Lanka have been dominant in international cricket for a while now. Even with seniors around, Sri Lanka had failed in automatic qualification for the T20 WC. Between Jan 1, 2016, and Jun 1, 2021, they had lost 41 games, winning only 17, with a W/L ratio of 0.414. So, the young team needs to be given adequate time, and also the backing, for reaping long term rewards.