Can Sri Lanka end their ODI woes?


Can Chandika Hathurusingha end Sri Lanka’s ODI woes during Asia Cup?

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka are the defending champions of Asia Cup having won the event when it was conducted in the 50 over format four years ago in Bangladesh. (In 2016, the tournament was played in T-20 format where India emerged champions). When Angelo Mathews’ side was crowned champions in 2014 convincingly beating Pakistan in the final in Dhaka, the big three – Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan – were very much part of the side.

Yet, Lahiru Thirimanne was named Player of the Series, after he compiled two hundreds in the competition including one in the final. Four years on, he has fallen completely off the radar. Something went wrong somewhere in our cricket.

Sri Lanka clearly will travel to Dubai next week as underdogs. Both India and Pakistan whitewashed them 5-0 only last year and the scars are still fresh.

However, Dubai was also the venue where Sri Lanka ended Paksitan’s unbeaten run in the desert that had lasted for seven years since the gulf region became their adopted home in 2010. That win of course came in the longer format of the game.

It won’t be an understatement to say that all what the Sri Lankans are looking forward to is to qualify for the Super Four stage. They have avoided both India and Pakistan in the first round as the organizers have pooled the arch-rivals in the same group. It is a clever marketing strategy as this means that India and Pakistan will meet each other at least twice in the competition. Commercially, in the form of television revenue, the Asian Cricket Council will make a kill.

Both Sri Lanka’s opponents in the first round – Bangladesh and Afghanistan have made tremendous progress over the last 24 months. Bangladesh even knocked Sri Lanka out of the Nidahas Trophy final in March this year.

Off-spinner Akila Dananjaya with his clever variations has emerged as Sri Lanka’s main weapon in shorter formats of the game and his wicket taking ability will serve the team well moving forward. The fact that he will not be available for both the first round matches is a massive blow.

The selectors were under tremendous pressure to include Lasith Malinga for the recent series against South Africa. They didn’t give in insisting that all players need to make themselves available for domestic cricket to be eligible for selection.

With Malinga making himself available for the SLC T-20 League last month, he was eligible for selection and the selectors have backed him. However, while there are no questions about Malinga being able to send down four overs in T-20 cricket, it remains to be seen whether he could take up the challenges of 50 over cricket having cut a pathetic figure the last time he played ODIs more than a year ago.

Batting remains Sri Lanka’s weakest link with the team unable to bat through 50 overs recently. The arrival of Dhananjaya de Silva, who came up with a couple of match winning performances in recent times augurs well.

Former captain Upul Tharanga was in awful form during the South African series and not many expected him to feature in the Asia Cup. But he has forced himself back into the side with some solid performances in domestic cricket having helped Colombo to win the domestic T-20 league.

How Sri Lanka will fare depends much on the form of captain Angelo Mathews. The 31-year-old in the last 18 months has struggled with injuries and hasn’t been his usual best. But during the South African series he showcased glimpses of his former self. At present, captain Mathews is the best match winner Sri Lanka have got.

Head Coach Chandika Hathurusingha is determined to fix Sri Lanka’s ODI woes and he is confident that the team will be able to turn things around by the time the World Cup comes. Sri Lankan fans are keen to see their team return to glory days where they dominated the game, particular in the shorter format of the games. No other team has reached five finals in the last ten years in ICC events and the onus is on Hathurusingha to put Sri Lankan cricket back on track.

The team will certainly do well without off the field distractions. The six match suspension of Danushka Gunathilaka was highly unnecessary at a time he was looking to cement his place. The left-handed opener has got only himself to blame. He is lucky to earn selection for Asia Cup, but leg-spinner Jeffrey Vandersay, who was expelled from West Indies for breaking team curfew is not so fortunate. His chances of making the cut for the World Cup look almost over.

With Hathurusingha, you take chances at your own peril.

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