Friday 28 March 2014 

Comment - England Expose Sri Lankan Weaknesses

Lasith Malinga
Did Dinesh Chandimal wait too long before recalling Lasith Malinga against England?
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Together with reviving their own World Twenty20 fortunes England’s breath-taking win over Sri Lanka also exposed certain cracks in what was perceived to be a rock solid unit.

Before picking apart Sri Lanka’s failings though, it is worth noting that conditions in Chittagong weighed heavily against them on Thursday evening.

Bowling in surroundings heavily affected by dew are problematic for any attack but particularly one as reliant on spin bowling as Sri Lanka are, given the difficulty involved with gripping the ball - making losing the toss a huge blow before a ball had even been bowled.  Sri Lanka, though, didn’t help themselves in either discipline.

One the face it a score of 189 is an imposing total and suggesting this as one area where the game was lost might seem absurd, however the overall total does not quite tell the full story.

England’s fielding was generous, chaotic and had they snared even or two of the half a dozen chances shelled Sri Lanka would have been well under par – or had Steve Davis given Mahela Jayawardene out in the second over.

That is of course not Sri Lanka’s problem, unlike the worryingly sluggish form of Tillakaratne Dilshan. The man once judged as a pioneer of Twenty20 cricket is at 37 not getting any younger and his returns in this format have nosedived of late – since the last World Cup his strike rate is a mediocre 109.

Criticising a batsman who scored 55 off 47 balls is undeniably harsh and it could be that Dilshan has played himself back into form, but it was hardly an innings in which he looked anywhere near good touch.

Dilshan’s current lack of explosiveness is a significant problem for a Sri Lanka side who arguably don’t possess the same level of top-order muscle as certain other sides - prior to this tournament’s commencement their chosen top seven had an average strike rate of just 123.2, which is the lowest of any of the eight automatic Super 10 qualifiers.

That Jayawardene was able to find form against England is a huge boost, considering this tournament has been more conducive to power hitting than many had anticipated - not something which suits Dinesh Chandimal’s side.

Their batting blemishes might have been hard to spot, yet the bowling deficiencies were clear to see in Chittagong. Make no qualms about it Sri Lanka can boast an excellent Twenty20 attack, especially when things run to script, however there are certain areas of concern – primarily the Ajantha Mendis conundrum and the overs to make up a fifth bowler.

When Mendis arrived on the scene with an ample box of tricks he was virtually unplayable, however the mysteries have long been unravelled - in his last 10 Twenty20 International he possesses an average economy rate of 8.24, which is a substantial degree higher than his career record of 6.5.

The warning signs of teams targeting the mystery spinner were evident in Sri Lanka’s opening game where he went for 44 and had it not been for poor execution Albie Morkel might have fully utilised Mendis to propel his side to victory.

Sri Lanka did not get away with Mendis' waywardness for a second time, with Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales clubbing 52 from his allocation. Undoubtedly the unexpectedly green Chittagong surface has given Mendis next to nothing to work with; assistance he clearly needs to have success.

It might be that Sri Lanka need to turn to the vastly experienced yet less exhilarating Rangana Herath to bring about a much-needed element of control.

"...as England proved despite a less than perfect showing in the field, they can be beaten.

They will rightly still be highly fancied to beat New Zealand and make the last four, however only time will tell whether Sri Lanka are able to mask the cracks in the business end of the competition."

Another significant issue that faced Chandimal was a reliable option to get through the final four overs, with both Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera laid into by a dominant England.

Perera, for all the lower-order power he offers with the bat is erratic with the ball and hardly the dependable option Sri Lanka are seeking, while Mathews, although a canny operator can be got at when things aren’t going to plan.

The basis of Sri Lanka’s attack is as strong as any with Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara and Sachithra Senanayake excellent performers in this format. However, such is the level of hitting power sides are able to turn to that these three can be dictated to without taking substantial risks - before targeting what is a weak supporting cast.

England scored at just 7.6 runs per over against the three bowlers named above, compared to the 13.2 runs per over that the remainder of the attack haemorrhaged.

Possessing multiple match winners is a key facet to winning Twenty20 games but equally important is to not carry passengers, which right now can’t be said of this Sri Lankan attack.

The final area of criticism is the manner in which Chandimal allowed the game to drift, given it took until the 16th over for either Malinga or Kulasekara to be recalled - by which point the match had swung firmly in England’s favour.

Proactive decision making is crucial in this format and on this occasion, with the benefit of hindsight Sri Lanka's young captain needed to do more to force the initiative given that with wickets in hand and the dew factor England were always likely to get home.

The draw may have benefitted them in regards to avoiding a number of the most favoured sides, but the Chittagong dew and conditions that are not as conducive to spin as those in Mirpur have proven to be something of an equaliser.

With that in mind Sri Lanka will be enthused that the semi-finals are being held in Mirpur, a venue the more suited to their skills.

Despite the shortcomings highlighted above Sri Lanka are still an excellent side, you only have to look at the Twenty20 win percentage table since the last World Cup for evidence - with Sri Lanka sitting comfortably top.

Nevertheless they are not the faultless outfit that such a record might indicate and as England proved despite a less than perfect showing in the field, they can be beaten.

They will rightly still be highly fancied to beat New Zealand and make the last four, however only time will tell whether Sri Lanka are able to mask the cracks in the business end of the competition.

© Cricket World 2014