Sri Lanka enter the Champions Trophy 2017 with blend of experienced and youngsters in the side © Getty Images
Sri Lanka enter the Champions Trophy 2017 with blend of experienced and youngsters in the side © Getty Images

On September 30, 2002, the (second) final of Champions Trophy, hosts Sri Lanka struggled to put up a competitive 222 with torrential showers looming. Indian bowlers squeezed the life of the Sri Lankan batsmen but only Mahela Jayawardene and Russell Arnold could withstand the spin attack when Sri Lanka were tottering at 71 for 4. Their 118-stand for the fifth wicket set the tone for the Sri Lanka innings. However, after Jayawardene’s dismissal, Arnold played a lone battle losing partners in succession. India, on the other hand, suffered early jolt with Chaminda Vaas dismissing Dinesh Mongia for nought. Just when Virender Sehwag’s cameo was beginning to light up Premadasa, the rain forced the sides to share the trophy.

That was the story of Sri Lanka’s most successful Champions Trophy campaign till date. Back to the present, there are no stalwarts like Jaywardene or Muttiah Muralitharan or Kumar Sangakkara or Tillakaratne Dilshan or Vaas. Barring the experienced likes of Angelo Mathews, Nuwan Kulasekara, Thisara Perera, Dinesh Chandimal, Lasith Malinga and Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka are in a transitional phase with a revamped side. After a not so pleasing calendar year in limited-overs cricket, Sri Lankan players have begun their preparations for the much-awaited tournament.

Sri Lanka have their lethal weapon, Malinga, back in the squad. He has not played an ODI in 19 months.Along with him, Sri Lanka have surprisingly recalled players who have not much been exposed to limited-overs cricket in the recent times like Chamara Kapugedara and Nuwan Pradeep. Sri Lanka have also gone with all pace attack and just two spinners to the side.

The good news is Sri Lanka have their skipper Mathews back in the squad post his hamstring injury that kept him out of the recent South Africa and Bangladesh ODI series. With the blend of exuberant as well as experience players, Sri Lanka look to keep their best foot forward but cautiously.

Let us understand the Sri Lanka squad in detail for Champions Trophy through SWOT analysis:

Strengths:

The Slinga factor: He is back and will be raring to go from the first game. Malinga will be playing his first ODI since November 2015. Although Malinga was back to the side in February for T20s in Australia and was good in the IPL, the demands of ODIs are very different to that of T20 cricket. Malinga holds 22 wickets from13 matches in the Champions Trophy.

Strong top-order: After several experimentations over the past few years, Sri Lanka finally found the right opening combination in form of Tharanga and Niroshan  Dickwella during the South Africa series. Although the latter whitewashed the visitors in ODIs, Tharanga and Dickwella provided sizzling starts. Exciting young batsman Kusal Mendis will be one of the batters to look forward to.

Weakness:

Pressure on Angelo Mathews as an all-rounder:Although the captain is back in the thick of things and has got the required runs in England last year, the pressure continues to pull down the skipper. Out of the 180 ODIs he has played, Mathews has just one century to his name. Playing an ODI after 6 months layoff and a dismal performance in the IPL, Mathews would need to get the runs from his willow. The middle-order heavily relies on the skipper and depending on the conditions might also expect him to handle the ball. Adding to the woes, leading an inexperienced side is a challenge Mathews will face.

Opportunity:

Fresh prospects:With a blend of old and new players, Sri Lanka will head to the Champions Trophy with fresh talents. The newbie’s like Dickwella, Mendis, Sandakan and AselaGunaratne have carved a niche for themselves in the limited overs format. Gunaratne, especially has removed the burden off Sri Lanka’s shoulder with yet another all-rounder to the side and powering the middle-order. He holds  strike rate of 87.63 off just 13 matches and 10 wickets to back his power-hitting.

Recalled players: It came to a surprise for many when Pradeep and Kapugedara were called up for the selection. Pradeep has only made sporadic presence in Sri Lanka while Kapugedara has not played an ODI since January 2016. Pradeep’s return has not been pleasant enough going wicketless in the practice match against Scotland. Pradeep was one of the key bowlers along with Lakmal during the England series, eventually bagging 4 wickets. As for Kapugedara, his hard-hitting skills can be one of the secret weapons in this huge podium, especially after the recent practice match.

Threat:

Sri Lanka’s tryst with India, South Africa and Pakistan: If we look at the ODI status of each of the teams in Group B, India and South Africa are way ahead in the league. Sri Lanka faced a huge blow after the Ireland Tri-Series as Bangladesh created history and took over No. 6 spot. Where South Africa toppled over Australia as No. 1 side, India are settled at No. 3. Sri Lanka will have stiff competition against these sides, but they would face a neck-to-neck fight against Pakistan who are almost sailing in the same boat. Both the sides had lost their series against the hosts England last year.

Sri Lanka’s history in Champions Trophy:

The history of Sri Lanka in Champions Trophy has been chaotic. Their first stint in the tournament, back in 1998, when it was a knockout competition, ended at the semi-final stage in Dhaka. South Africa had cleaned them up for 132 in their chase of 241. This remains their lowest score in their journey so far. In the next tournament, Sri Lanka lost to Pakistan by 9 wickets at Nairobi.

In a big boost, they returned as joint-champions along India 2002. Since then, Sri Lanka have been eliminated within the group stage. But it was in 2013 when they entered the semi-final stage ultimately being humbled by India in England.

Year Host Position
1998 Bangladesh Semifinalist
2000 Kenya Quarter-finalist
2002 Sri Lanka Co-champions (with India)
2004 England Group Stage
2006 India Group Stage
2009 South Africa Group Stage
2013 England and Wales Semi-finalist

Here are some records that Sri Lanka holds in the Champions Trophy journey:

-In terms of batting, the trio – Sangakkara, Tharanga and Jayawardene rule the roost. Sangakkara holds the highest individual score for a Sri Lanka in the tournament. His unbeaten innings of 134 from 135 balls helped the side win the match by 7 wickets at The Oval against England. However, Jayawardene takes the cake for maximum runs (742 at an average of 41.22 and strike rate of 84.80) as a Sri Lankan batsman in Champions Trophy,

-As for the bowlers, Farveez Mahroof and Muralitharan came good for Sri Lanka earlier. Mahroof not only holds the record for best figures in an innings of 6 for 14 against West Indies in 2006 but also holds most number of wickets (12) off 6 matches in the same edition. Meanwhile, Muralitharan holds 24 wickets off 17 matches at an astounding economy rate of 3.60.

-Sri Lanka’s veteran Sangakkara stood out not just as a batsman but also with the gloves. His best dismissal in an innings was against Netherlands in 2002 where he ended with 5 (4 catches and 1 stumping). Career wise, he holds the record for 33 dismissals – 28 catches and 5 stumpings. He was on top of the table in the 2006 edition with 15 dismissals – 13 catches and 2 stumpings.

-As for highest chase, Sri Lanka’s finest innings was against England in England where they required 294 to win. Sri Lanka achieved the same within 47.3 overs.

Players to watch out for:

Before leaving for England, Mathews stressed up on Sandakan. “He is going to be our key. He is a bit of a mystery bowler and lot of teams haven’t seen him. He can be a big threat during this tournament,” Mathews told Cricbuzz. Coming with no experience of England conditions, Sandakan trapped Scotland in his cobweb claiming 5 wickets in the recent practice match. This mystery bowler will have lot to offer in the big event.

Dickwella, on the other hand, made the chase of 166 against Scotland look easier with 63-ball 53 in the second practice match. Supporting him was partner Mendis, who rose to fame when he scored 176 against Australia in the first Test. He also has an ODI century from the recent Bangladesh series. And that is not it. Mendis already has two fifties against England playing here last year. Tharanga’s experience cannot be unseen as well.

Comeback man Kapugedara also posted tough fight against Scotland in the practice match, being the second highest scorer in the side. And there is Mr. Dependable, Dinesh Chandimal.

Lakmal will be a key bowler. He has done well in South Africa and to support him will be the experienced blokes, Kulasekara and Malinga.

Sri Lanka’s forgettable ODI journey: (In 2016-17: Played 27, won 7 and lost 15)

Sri Lanka have had a rough run in ODIs lately. All their ODI series have been away barring the one against Australia, which they lost at home. They were whitewashed in South Africa and their series against Bangladesh ended in draw.

Last year, Sri Lanka began their ODI journey against New Zealandwhich they lost by margin of 3-1. Nevertheless, they were relieved to secure victory against Ireland thereafter. However, they slumped against England barring some individual performances from Mendis, Chandimal, Prasanna and likes.

Champions Trophy Schedule:

Sri Lanka will play their warm-up against Australia andas for the main event; their first match will be up against South Africa on June 3 at The Oval in London. Below are remaining fixtures for the side:

Date Match Venue Time
May 26 Australia vs Sri Lanka Kennington Oval, London 15:00 IST
May 30 New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Edgbaston, Birmingham 15:00 IST
June 3 Sri Lanka vs South Africa Kennington Oval, London 15:00 IST
June 8 India vs Sri Lanka Kennington Oval, London 15:00 IST
June 12 Pakistan vs Sri Lanka Sophia Gardens, Cardiff 15:00 IST

Sri Lanka Squad:

Angelo Mathews (c), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Upul Tharanga, Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Chamara Kapugedera, Asela Gunaratne, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Kulasekara, Nuwan Pradeep, Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Seekkuge Prasanna