The young Sri Lankans have taken no time in settling into the team thanks to the stable makeup of the team © AFP
By R Vishal
After faltering in International Cricket Council (ICC) tournaments for number of years at the final hurdle, Sri Lanka broke the jinx to clinch the Asia Cup 2014 in style through Lahiru Thirimanne’s century, with veteran Mahela Jayawardene providing ample support.
More than breaking the shackles and showing the bottle at the biggest occasion, it is the reservoir of talent that the Island nation have for the present and the future across formats that puts them in good stead. With the senior players around and guiding the team ably their future is bright for the foreseeable future.
The great Sri Lankan team of the 1990s always prided on their strength in the batting line-up. Then Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara took over the mantle from Aravinda de Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga. Now too we can think of plenty of contenders to fill the shoes of the decorated duo who are proud owners of the highest ever partnership in Tests.
While their Test team is still a work-in-progress, their One-Day International (ODI) team has seen a vast influx of talent at the top order; young, hungry and eager to stake their claim by playing fearless and attacking brand of cricket that they have thrived on.
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Kusal Perera, with his Sanath Jayasuriya-like swagger and stroke-making abilities has proved that he is no poor imitation of the Matara dasher and is the real deal at the top of the order. With the once forgotten man Thirimanne making a stunning comeback into the scheme of things, it provides the team management with a wealth of options.
Dinesh Chandimal’s blow hot-blow cold form might be a bit of concern after the immense promise he showed when he broke in the scene. But he has shown glimpses of getting back to his former self with a couple of decent outings in the Asia Cup and in the ODI series against Bangladesh. He is slowly finding his groove back.
Even a late entrant like Ashan Priyanjan has used his opportunities well. He can be counted upon as an additional bowling option in the mix. Kithuruwan Vithanage scored a blistering hundred against Bangladesh recently, but tougher challenges await the lanky southpaw who bats down the order. With age on his side, he will get chances to prove his mettle.
The once brittle looking lower-order has now become quite a formidable force. In captain, Angelo Mathews, the Sri Lankans have a player who is reliable, consistent and capable of clearing the boundary. Thisara Perera’s exponential rise as a lower order batsman gives Sri Lanka the edge in close contests; a role that spinner Sachitra Senanayake has also reprised admirably in recent times.
In the Asia Cup, a rookie Chaturanga de Silva stood up and put in fine performances in his very first tournament. Though, he came into the side as a batsman, his slow bowling abilities were impressive. Lasith Malinga’s toe-crushers are as reliable as ever. Suranga Lakmal displayed significant improvement in his bowling after tying Pakistan down with some disciplined spells, although, the pace bowling department could do with an able partner for the brilliant Malinga. As a makeshift arrangement, Mathews and the team management should be credited for using their resources smartly and bringing the best out of their limited options.
With Sangakkara and Jayawardene still going strong and treating all three formats of the game with equal merit, Sri Lanka are an organised and a stable outfit compared to many other teams, who choose to go in with completely contrasting sides across formats.
While the old warhorses at the helm and free of captaincy duties, the new players entering the fray have found it easier to blend in. It could also be due to the aforementioned stability in personnel that the team management have opted for.
There was a time when Sri Lanka used to rely heavily on Muttiah Muralitharan for wickets. Nowadays though, the setup has quickly moved onto chart a different route to success since the spin legend’s retirement.
Even with the contract issue threatening to derail the team at one point, they have again shunned external issues to the corner and focused on matters on the field.
After braving civil war and bloodshed in the country, the Sri Lankan team went on to win the 1996 World Cup. In comparison, the contract dilemma looks tame and in the shorter formats at least, Sri Lanka are ready to entertain and win hearts with their swashbuckling brand of cricket and should go in as one of the favourites to win the ICC World T20 2014.
(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)