When the T20 World Cup began in 2007, Sri Lanka were at the peak of their prowess in the ICC events. They were making it to the semi-finals for fun and advanced to many finals, but without winning the trophy. The silverware finally came their way in 2014, in Bangladesh. A downward curve followed, courtesy of their most celebrated cricketers retiring from the game.
2016 was the first time Sri Lanka were not in the semi-finals of a T20 World Cup. Five years later, in the subsequent edition, they are playing the qualifiers’ round which marks their nosedive. They will start their campaign playing Namibia on Monday night (October 18), an emerging team in the Associate circles. The other two sides are the Netherlands and Ireland. Sri Lanka are tasked to go past what you can call the ‘Group of Death’ to proceed to the main round.
Sri Lanka’s recent record in T20Is is so bad, you might think they don’t understand the format. Since 2020, they have the lowest win percentage amongst all Test playing nations. The comparison amongst the teams participating in this tournament also doesn’t put them in good light. Only Papua New Guinea have a worse win percentage, although with a much smaller sample size.
Sri Lanka have had a mix bag in their build up to this World Cup. They had a massive result against a second string India but the battering against South Africa pulled them back to square one. They will now take confidence from winning each of their last four T20s (not internationals) - two against Oman and both their warm-up games, facing PNG and Bangladesh.
Batting is what has marred Sri Lanka consistently. They are crippled on both batting metrics - average and strike-rate - which are the lowest amongst all participating teams in this World Cup.
Be it openers, middle-order, powerplay, middle-overs or the death overs, Sri Lanka are lingering at the bottom of all the table.
A bio-bubble breach followed by an exaggerated reaction from the board jolted them further. Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella, three key players of the white-ball setup were suspended for a year post the protocol violation in England. After trying various options to fill the void, the selectors have welcomed back Dinesh Chandimal. Sri Lanka will also welcome Kusal Perera who missed the home summer due to injury he suffered in England
In a similar vein to their batting, the bowling numbers are down as well. But bowling spin is one facet where Sri Lanka are not in the bottom half. In fact, they are better than some title contenders like West Indies, England and India.
A large part of the credit goes to Wanindu Hasaranga who will be their most valuable player with his leg-spin and batting credentials. Since 2020, Hasaranga has 24 T20I wickets at 14.7 runs apiece. He has conceded at only 6 per over. He has also scored 145 runs batting in the lower order.
There is Akila Dananjaya and the new kid on the block - Maheesh Theekshana. Add Dhananjaya de Silva’s handy off-spin, Sri Lanka can play three spinners covering most departments. If the pitches are sluggish as they were for most part of the 2021 IPL, the Lankans can form a tough bowling unit to counter.
There is Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara, who can crank up the pace. Dasun Shanaka and Chamika Karunaratne can fill up the fifth bowler’s role. It is in theory but Sri Lanka have a well rounded bowling arsenal, with more than five bowling options at their disposal.
They have their best bunch of players assembled in a long time which can create a difference. In addition, they have the guidance of serial winner Mahela Jayawardene, a shrewd tactician of his time and someone who understands the game as a coach in the recent era of franchise cricket.
Players to watch out
Avishka Fernando’s T20I career has not bloomed yet but he has dropped enough hints of his talent. An opening batsman by natural instincts, Fernando was slotted at the number four slot during Sri Lanka’s four T20 games over the last 10 days. He amassed 239 runs, averaging 118.9 at a strike-rate of 153.2. He provided runs in each of the four games, remaining unbeaten twice. Fernando has been earmarked as one for the future ever since his hundred in the 2019 World Cup and there could be no better time to materialize those expectations.
Mystery spinners always bring an air of excitement around them. Maheesh Theekshana belongs to the same category. He can spin the ball both ways alongside a bamboozling carrom ball. He is still obscure at the biggest level and will be Sri Lanka's X-factor in the competition.
Kusal Perera (wk), Pathum Nissanka, Dinesh Chandimal, Avishka Fernando, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka (c), Chamika Karunaratne, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara, Maheesh Theekshana