World Cup 2019: Sri Lanka aim to exit with heads high and an eye on future
Dimuth Karunaratne is optimistic about Sri Lanka's future. (AFP Image)

HEADINGLEY: Considering the rut they were in during the build-up to the World Cup, Sri Lanka finished sixth on the points table. Many believe they punched above their weight despite being eliminated. And rightly so. Ranked ninth in the ODI rankings, Sri Lanka have defeat West Indies, Afghanistan and England, and lost to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. That is a success of 50 percent. ALSO READ: Against spirited Sri Lanka, India search best combination ahead of knockouts

Had rain not washed out their matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh, would they have fared better, or worse? We would never know. As they head into their final round-robin match against semi-finalists India, Sri Lanka would take plenty of heart from their campaign. ALSO READ: Karthik feels India can chase any total

Of the many positives, Lasith Malinga reminding everyone of his days of yore and Avishka Fernando providing a glimpse into Sri Lanka’s future have emerged the most significant.

“I think if you take the batting line-up – Avishka Fernando and Kusal and the opening pair and some middle order, if you take – we do well in the middle order the first few games, but if you take the last matches, we capitalized well and we managed to bat really well in the end of the tournament. But I think that it’s too late,”  Dimuth Karunaratne, the Sri Lanka captain said.

“But if you take the positives of Avishka Fernando, he’s playing and doing really good. He got, in three games he showed that he can do, he can produce some runs for Sri Lanka. And he’s one of the future stars. And if you take the bowling line-up, they did really well, especially Malinga and Nuwan Pradeep. They’re the good sign. And if you take this World Cup those are the things, highlighted things I feel want to go forward. Those are the positive points in this tournament.”

Usually, when a team goes through a transition phase, they end up achieving it between the course of two World Cups. But with Sri Lanka, it doesn’t seem to end. The 2019 edition is the first World Cup since 2003 that Sri Lank did not make the knockouts. With numerous off-field distractions and lack of a proper domestic structure threatening to hurt Sri Lanka and its cricket further, Karunaratne insisted on the need to look forward and build a team for the World Cup in India in 2023.

“In the 2015 World Cup we also started to build the World Cup side but unfortunately the players who come in, they couldn’t perform very well then,” he said.

“And that time we had to change lots of players. But after the World Cup, after this World Cup we’re trying to have a special plan and identify the players who can produce or give a good – if you take the bowling and the batting and the fielding, and the fitness level, we are looking for the future World Cup and we’re trying to, they are a good bunch of players and trying to give our maximum challenges for them. And we are trying to make a good solid 15 players for the next World Cup.”

“In Sri Lanka, we have only one domestic season. And after that, if they’ve performed well, the players, they have only a chance to show up there for their talent on that particular domestic season. So that’s why we can identify the players from that tournament. So that’s the reason. After that, when you come to the international level, so there’s a huge gap. So we have to know – we have to cross that gap and we have to play lots of cricket, give chance to the players go to play IPL, some Big Bash League or County League. So we are given permission to play in this tournament and get some experience and come back. So those are the things I’m expecting from the cricket board after this World Cup, they will make a good decision and make us strong at the domestic level and produce some good players for the future.”

While India are firm-favourites against Sri Lanka on Saturday, having won seven games out of their last nine matches, they won’t risk taking them lightly. On the other hand, Sri Lanka can take confidence from their last match against India in England – the 2017 Champions Trophy where they gunned down 332 on the back of Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews’ half-centuries.

“India are a top team, and you can’t afford to make mistakes against a side like that. But we have beaten them in England in the Champions Trophy, and some of those players who did that are in this squad as well. I hope we can take inspiration from that win and play well,” Karunaratne said.