Sri Lanka approached the Champions Trophy with a fresh perspective as the senior statesmen stepped aside allowing Angelo Matthews to lead the side in England. It was a positive move and Sri Lanka can hold their head high inspite of losing to eventual champions India in the semi-finals. Their road to the semi-finals was punctuated by some thrilling contests and nerve wracking finishes. The match against England, eventual finalists, in the group stage would go down as a Champions Trophy classic.
There were a number of positivesthat emerged from the tournament for the Lankan lions. Kumar Sangakkara and MahelaJayawardene returned to form and did the bulk of the scoring for their team. The batting line-up depends heavily on their performance and it is critical for their fortunes that they continue to be among the runs. They found a promising bowler in ShamindaEranga who conceded a lot of runs against England but threatened continuously and can make a mark at the international stage. NuwanKulasekara is beginning to emerge as an all-round cricketer after he displayed his abilities with the bat in Sri Lanka’s massive chase of 293 runs against England. He will lend greater balance to this Sri Lankan side. Angelo Matthews looked the part as a leader and lead from the front with his own performances.
The tri-series in West Indies will be yet another stage in the evolution of the squad that ultimately aims to conquer the world in 2015. Sri Lanka were forced to leave out TilakratneDilshan who suffered a calf-injury in the semi-final against India. He was in the middle of a good innings when he had to limp of the pitch. His absence creates a huge void in the Sri Lankan top order especially when KusalPerera has not been at his best. UpulTharanga has been added to the squad and he is likely to take Dilshan’s place at the head of the innings while KusalPerera gets another chance. The batsmen has been, perhaps prematurely, compared to SanathJayasurya in terms of his style of batting and the impact that he can have at the top of the batting order.
The Sri Lankan middle order looks solid, stable and reliable. It boasts of a good mix of experience and youth as vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal, LahiruThirimannejoin the ranks of MahelaJayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. Thirimanne especially looks a fantastic prospect for Sri Lankan cricket and might be promoted to the number three position as an experiment at some stage. Sangakkara’s knock of 134 against England in the Champions Trophy was one of the best One-Day International innings of all time. It came at a point when Sri Lanka needed it the most and took them over the line. He looked very disappointed when he lost his wicket in the semi-final against India and will be looking to correct that mistake in the forthcoming series as Sri Lanka try to extract revenge for yet another defeat to India at a big ticket ICC tournament.
Sri Lanka’s bowling line-up remains pretty much the same except for the exclusion of all-rounder ThisaraPerera and the return of ‘mystery spinner’ AjanthaMendis. It has been difficult to fathom the attitude of the Sri Lankan selectors towards AjanthaMendis. He has been in and out of this Sri Lankan side inspite of his ability to win matches with outstanding individual performances. Sri Lankan selectors seem to be under the impression that it is his novelty that gets him wickets and thus they have reduced him to a T-20 specialist whereas his domestic form suggests that he should be playing a role in ODI cricket. He will be a part of a whole host of spinners that Sri Lanka have in their squad. JeevanMendis, SachithraSenanayake, RanganaHerath are also a part of the squad.
Sri Lanka’s fast bowling department is constituted by LasithMalinga, NuwanKulasekara, ShamindaErangaand DilharaLokuhettige. Malinga had a bitter-sweet Champions Trophy as he started off with a devastating spell of bowling against the Kiwis but fizzled out as the tournament went on. He was put to the sword by ViratKohli once again in the semi-final and it seemed he had no answer to his aggressive strokeplay. He will be tested once again against the heavy Indian batting line-up. Kulasekara was extracting swing in the English conditions but his lack of pace makes him an easy target on slow pitches. It will be interesting to see if ShamindaEranga is allowed to have a consistent run in this ODI side. He looks like a wicket-taking bowler who will be expensive from time to time but can be developed into a threatening bowler.