Sri Lanka were outstred by Pakistan © Getty Images
Sri Lanka lost to Pakistan in a decisive tie © Getty Images

Few had expected Sri Lanka to make it to the semi-final when ICC Champions Trophy 2017 teed off. Whatever hope was there took a further blow when Angelo Mathews was ruled out of the first match. Upul Tharanga stood and led creditably before getting banned for two matches for poor over rate. There was little hope left after one comprehensive defeat, one injured captain, and one banned senior cricketer, but Sri Lanka defied expectations to turn around. Set 322 by India, Sri Lanka pulled off the biggest chase in the history of Champions Trophy. They came within striking distance of making it to the semi-final at the expense of Pakistan, but they have only themselves to blame for throwing it all away. They dropped three catches, bowled wides, gave away easy runs, and lost nerve as Pakistan tightened their grip on the match. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, ICC Champions Trophy 2017, Match 12 at Cardiff

It was not the first match where Sri Lanka squandered an opportunity. After South Africa set them 300, Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella came out all guns blazing, adding 69 for the first wicket in 50 balls. The second wicket added 25 in 21. Then Imran Tahir came on and they crashed to 203.

In stark contrast to the first match, Sri Lanka did not throw the India match away despite losing Dickwella early. Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis added 159, and though they lost two wickets, Kusal Perera, Mathews, and Asela Gunaratne sealed the match.

As for the third match, Dickwella and Mendis took them to 83 for 1 in the 15th over. Mathews chipped in as well, and they definitely looked on top at 161 for 3. Then they threw it away, losing 4 quick wickets before Gunaratne and Suranga Lakmal took them to 236.

The topsy-turvy nature of the match continued. The Pakistan openers added 74 after Gunathilaka dropped Azhar Ali in the first over, but wickets kept falling, especially against Nuwan Pradeep. At 162 for 7 Pakistan did not have much hope, but 13 wides, 2 dropped catches (both off Sarfraz Ahmed), 5 overthrows, and numerous errors on field did not help their cause.

ICC CT 2017: Mathews blames dropped catches for loss vs PAK

Review

In retrospect, Sri Lanka did not do a poor job. They finished fourth on the points table, but they were grouped with the No. 1 ranked side, the championship favourites, and the most mercurial side in the world.

They won a match and there were situations in the other two matches when they could have sealed them: inexperience almost certainly cost them. Perhaps they could have given Nuwan Kulasekara a chance for sheer experience. Or maybe they could have thrown Lakshan Sandakan in for the South Africa match.

Mathews was not at his fittest but did a commendable job as leader and batsman. He marshalled his troops well, but could do little when his team put down catches. Malinga bowled his heart out in the decider, and the fact that he made it through the match without losing temper bears testimony to his big-match temperament.

Their batting came off in patches. Against India they were near-perfect, but against South Africa and Pakistan they failed to capitalise on starts. The bowlers did not impress: they were set 300 and 322, and they conceded an unbeaten 75-run stand for the eighth wicket that cost them a berth in the semi-final.

But most importantly, Sri Lanka missed senior men who could handle pressure. They are still a side in transition. Some big retirements in recent past have hurt them, as has Mathews’ absence. However, there is no doubt that they are a talented lot. Once Mathews gets a nucleus in order, Sri Lanka may recreate magic of the late 1990s or on either side of 2010.

Marks out of 10

Kusal Mendis (127 runs at 42.33, 2 catches): 8/10

Chasing 300, Sri Lanka refused to slow down. Mendis went with the flow, hit two exquisite shots for four, but perished for 10. In the India match he top-scored with a wonderful 89. He looked settled against Pakistan before a peach of a leg-cutter undid him. The catch to dismiss Azhar Ali was superb as well.

Angelo Mathews (91 runs at 91): 7.5/10

Mathews had not played an ODI since last August. He was ruled out of the first match. Would he have played the second match had Tharanga not been banned? One can only wonder.

But Mathews played. He shuffled his bowlers intelligently. When nothing worked, he got them to bowl short spells, making sure the Indians did not get used to the pace of one bowler. When he came out Sri Lanka needed 126 from 104 balls: he calmly finished things with an unbeaten 45-ball 52.

His second salvage act (39) was cut short when he chopped one on from Mohammad Aamer. Sri Lanka let the match slip after having Pakistan on the mat. While there was little he could do about dropped catches, wides, and sub-par ground fielding, he might have done a better job of pulling things together. He loses half a point for that: captaincy is, after all, a crown of thorns.

Kusal Perera (91 runs without an average, 1 catch): 7/10

Kusal had two opportunities. The first came when there was little left in the South Africa match as Tahir ran through them. He tried his best to sort things out with an unbeaten 44, but with eight men scoring 46 between them the best he could do was to do something about the net run rate.

He batted beautifully against India with a 44-ball 47 before having to retire hurt due to a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the tournament.

Niroshan Dickwella (121 runs at 40.33, 4 catches): 7/10

Dickwella had the audacity to toy with Wayne Parnell and Kagiso Rabada. The six over mid-wicket and the flicked four over square-leg are worth browsing YouTube for. His 33-ball 41 set a platform for the chase before the collapse began. He failed in the India match, but held the innings together against Pakistan with a solid 79. He also took a neat diving catch to get Quinton de Kock.

Danushka Gunathilaka (89 runs at 44.50, economy 4.77): 6.5/10

Had Tharanga not been banned, Danushka might not have got a match. When he did, he set up the chase against India with a beautiful 72-ball 76. He failed in the other match, against Pakistan, and loses a point for dropping Azhar Ali.

Upul Tharanga (57 runs at 57): 6/10

Tharanga did little wrong in his innings of 57. He batted deep and saw four men depart before he fell in an attempt to prevent the asking rate from rising. He loses a full point for not pushing his bowlers and getting banned as a result.

Asela Gunaratne (65 runs at 32.50, 1 wicket at 90, economy 5, 1 catch): 6/10

Gunaratne provided the finishing touches against India with a quick unbeaten 21-ball 34 and helped Sri Lanka recover from a perilous 167 for 7 to reach 236. He also yorked Yuvraj Singh in the India match.

Nuwan Pradeep (6 runs at 3, 6 wickets at 31.17, economy 6): 6/10

To be fair, Pradeep bowled beautifully throughout the tournament. He ran in hard, hit the deck, did not lose patience, and took wickets when nobody else did. He bowled a beauty to get de Kock, got Virat Kohli for a duck, and almost turned the Pakistan match on its head with 3 for 60.

Suranga Lakmal (26 runs at 13, 3 wickets at 57, economy 5.70): 4/10

Lakmal tried hard but failed to make an impact. He did not exactly fail in any of the three matches, but did not bowl a spell to remember either — though he did surprise David Miller into submission. He gets an extra point for the crucial cameo against Pakistan.

Thisara Perera (1 run at 1, 2 wickets at 47.50, economy 5.70, 1 catch): 3.5/10 

Thisara bowled well during the Indian onslaught and eventually snared MS Dhoni. He deserves little credit for getting Mohammad Hafeez or running out Fahim Ashraf, but he did bowl accurately. He loses half a point for dropping a dolly to give Sarfraz (and Pakistan) the reprieve they needed.

Lasith Malinga (10 runs at 10, 3 wickets at 59.67, economy 6): 3/10

You have to feel for Malinga. Had those 3 catches not gone down against Pakistan it could have been a different story. Having said that, there is little excuse for him bowling all over, giving away easy runs and conceding 10 wides. He varied his pace and often troubled the batsmen, but more was expected of a limited-overs legend.

Seekkuge Prasanna (13 runs at 13, 1 wicket at 72, economy 7.20, 1 catch): 1/10

He got AB de Villiers, took an easy catch, and hit a six. That was it.

Dinesh Chandimal (12 runs at 6, 2 catches): 0.5/10

One of his two catches was excellent.

Dhananjaya de Silva (1 run at 1, economy 3, 1 catch): 0/10

He bowled an over and gave away 3 runs.

Chamara Kapugedara (0 run at 0, 1 catch): 0/10

He played.