Sri Lanka was never a team you could write off so easily, at least in World Cups. They have always punched above their expectations, not in 2019 though. With their core; batting and bowling in a mess, in the first of the doubleheader, Sri Lanka go head to head with defending champions, Australia in a must-win encounter on 15th June, Saturday at Kennington Oval, London.
The weather has played a spoilsport in this world cup with 4 matches washed out. Two of the matches were Sri Lankan fixtures; vs Bangladesh and vs Pakistan. With four points from four games, the Islanders are languishing at the bottom half of the table. Australia got their campaign back on track with a convincing win over Pakistan by 41 runs on June 12th.
Since 2015, 15 matches have been played at this ground and there is no difference in the pattern when teams have batted first or chased. Teams batting first have won 6 while teams chasing 7. Albeit if we see a clear sky with sun beating down it’s a no brainer to bat first.
The wicket is good for batting but slows down a bit as the game progresses making batting at tad difficult in the second innings.
Let’s assume Sri Lanka wins the toss and elects to bat first, they at least have to score 300 to give themselves a chance but historical data depicts they have rarely gone past 300 since 2015 WC. The top six Sri Lankan batsmen average 30 runs since the 2017 Champions Trophy; therefore they are unable to set big totals or chase them. And the lack of one batsman capable of playing a big innings only adds to the problems -- only 6 hundreds were scored by the Sri Lankan top 5 since the conclusion of the 2017 Champions Trophy.
Captain-cum-opener Dimuth Karunaratne hasn’t played a single ODI since the 2015 WC. Their most experienced campaigner, Angelo Matthews, hasn’t played a single ODI leading to the World Cup – and he is yet to get off the mark in this edition.
The lack of a settled opening pair means that the Lankan innings invariably starts off with a handicap. Since 2018, Sri Lanka’s average partnership runs for the 1st wicket is 31, just above Afghanistan (29). In this World Cup though, it was Lanka’s top 3 who contributed 73% of their team’s total runs but the middle order falters badly. In the two complete games Sri Lanka played, they lost a middle order wicket (4-7) in every 5 balls.
They might tinker with the batting order promoting Angelo Matthews at no 4 to control the innings. Among all options, Matthews is the only player who has the least dismissal % in the first 20 balls of their innings. The misfiring Dhananjaya De Silva could be replaced by Milinda Siriwardana who has scored 3 fifties batting at this position.
Their bowling further adds insult to injury. Since 2017, Sri Lankan bowlers have conceded 290 runs per match the highest by any team alongside England. Their opening bowlers have failed to provide early inroads and lack quality spinners to control the game in the middle overs. They have been the most expensive when it comes to death overs conceding at 8.43 RPO between overs (41-50).
Their talisman, Lasith Malinga though has a good record against Australia. In 27 matches he has taken 47 wickets with a bowling strike rate of 24.7. He has troubled David Warner dismissing him a record four times in nine innings.
Australia’s vulnerable support cast
Albeit if the Lankan opening pair can weather the opening burst of Cummins and Starc and stitch a partnership together then the loophole can be exposed; the supporting cast; the likes of Adam Zampa, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Marcus Stoinis have not been able to freeze the scoring rate in the middle overs. They all have been expensive conceding over 6 RPO. It automatically forces Aaron Finch to bring back Starc and Cummins ahead of the death overs.
We saw a glimpse against India when Shikhar Dhawan forced Finch to bring on Starc and Cummins between overs 31-40 to control the scoring rate which in turn exposed their death bowling. Australia conceded 116 runs in the last 10 overs and lost the game there itself.
David Warner’s cautious approach
After making 56 of 84 balls against India he faced criticism from all around and became the top headline in the cricketing circle. In the game against Afghanistan to he was batting at Strike rate of 95, way below his career Strike Rate. Warner was coming on the back of a year ban without playing international cricket and will certainly take time to adjust which was evident in the IPL as well.
As Kumar Sangakkara pointed out on air” The new Warner might be too worried about success and cannot play freely as he did pre-ban because he hesitates to take risks with the fear to get out early.
Given the brand of cricket both the teams have played, Australia looks far better on paper as well as in terms of performance. Sri Lanka’s only chance stands if they play their entire 50 overs and then hope that their pacers deliver.
Australia might be tempted to bring back Adam Zampa given the wicket will assist the spinners as the game progresses.
David Warner, Aaron Finch (c), Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa/ Kane Richardson
If Nuwan Pradeep is fit he will be a certain starter in the playing XI. Milinda Siriwardana might be a direct replacement for Dhananjaya de Silva
Kusal Perera (wk), Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Matthews, Milinda Siriwardana, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Kasun Rajitha/ Nuwan Pradeep