Opportunities lie in adversity. This has been the motto in the cricket world ever since the Covid pandemic struck. Teams are playing international cricket with limited resources and some of them have passed the test of these challenging times. India defeated Australia Down Under, England trounced Pakistan 3-0 with an ODI squad revamped overnight and now Sri Lanka have clinched only their second T20I series since 2019, defeating India of all teams.
As far as the enormity of the win is concerned, India’s effort wasn’t the greatest but one may say Sri Lanka needed this win more than any of the aforementioned instances to stay afloat. The constant changes in the leadership role, contract issues resulting in star players staying away, the string of defeats, Sri Lanka cricket were fighting for the dignity they earned in their glorious past. Add the suspension of three of their first-choice players and another injured, they were in deep waters.
This win is heartening but would mean a lot less if Sri Lanka don’t pile up more spirited performances like this. For that, it is important they implement the learnings from this series, listed below.
The win itself is the biggest takeaway from this win. Winning is a habit and Sri Lankan cricket were in a space where they appeared to be far away from acquiring it. It was almost confirmed in the second ODI when they witnessed the win elude them after having the first sight of the finish line. However, the comeback was stronger than the setback. They won three of their next four games, doubling their tally of international wins in 2021.
It may have come against a calamity-stricken second-string Indian team but it was still a battle of equals considering the ordeal of Sri Lankan cricket. They will now hope it brings back the confidence to win crunch moments in the games going forward and inculcate that winning habit once again.
Chalked out a new plan
Sri Lanka coach Mickey Arthur has consistently stressed on the need for the batters to score more runs. They batted alright in these six white-ball games. They won three of them, all at the back of their spinners. In the third ODI, Praveen Jayawickrama and Akila Dananjaya picked six wickets in the middle-order to derail India’s progress. In the last two T20Is, it was the combination of Dananjaya and Wanindu Hasaranga. In the six games overall, Sri Lanka picked 23 wickets with spin as opposed to only 14 with pace.
Probably this is the way they will play their cricket now, at least at home. Strangle the opposition with spinners and lessen the burden on your batsmen as much as possible.
New stars on the horizon
In this series for Sri Lanka, Chamika Karunaratne and Charith Asalanka shone for the first time, giving Sri Lanka hope of a brighter future.
Having made his debut in the preceding series in England, 24-year old Asalanka showed his value in the middle-order. He was calm in negotiating spin at tough times during the ODI series and displayed his measured aggression in the first T20I, post which he was ruled out due to a hamstring injury. Asalanka scored 127 runs in the three ODIs, averaging 42.3. In the first T20I, he was carrying Sri Lanka’s chase on his shoulders until he was out on 44.
Karunaratne was another impressive figure with his all-round show even though it was more with the bat where he was at his best. Batting in the lower-order, Karunaratne exhibited the value in his power-hitting. In fact, he dominated the leader of India’s bowling attack, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and in the whole tour, he smashed the right-arm pacer for 57 runs off 28 deliveries at the cost of one dismissal.
In the post-match show after the second T20I, Arthur mentioned the hard work put in by Karunaratne regarding his range hitting when he was warming the bench in England. All the hard work brought him rich dividends in this series.
Not to forget, Jayawickrama picked a three-for in the only ODI he played.
Underlined stars continue to show promise
The form of Dhananjaya de Silva and Hasarnaga, two youngsters already earmarked for the future, to close out the series is a huge positive for Sri Lanka.
De Silva scored only 57 runs in the ODI series and the first T20I combined but when it mattered the most, he guided Sri Lanka to successive run chases with his unbeaten knocks. "This is what I'm meant to do for the team," said de Silva after a tricky run chase in the second T20I. The fact that he possesses the clarity about his role and has executed it with such perfection is a promising sign for Sri Lanka going ahead. Avishka Fernando also scored a resilient 76 in the final ODI.
Similarly, Hasaranga played a critical role in Sri Lanka’s victory. Hasaranga picked 7 wickets in three matches at 9.7 runs apiece and scored a handy 15 in the second T20I. He has now been the Player of the Series in both the T20I series Sri Lanka have won since 2019. This time it was against India and has put him in limelight for an IPL call-up. In many ways, he has emerged into the face of Sri Lanka Cricket in a short span.