Sri Lanka - Underdog Over-Achievers
Sri Lanka. Perpetual underdogs. Perpetual over-achievers. They have never entered a World Cup as title favorites. They have never entered a World Cup with the best batting or the best bowling line-ups. Their run-ups to most World Cups isn’t smooth either, like this year’s 2-4 loss to New Zealand. Yet, there is something about the Sri Lankans, some hidden spark that ignites them just ahead of the big matches.
The returns are for all to see. A World title was missing since 1996, when Sunil Gavaskar had famously predicted the underdogs going all the way. But, with the T20 World Cup final win against India, a match where India were enroute batting them out by the end of the first 15 overs, the fortunes of the gritty team might well have changed.
Sri Lanka will not have Muttiah Muralitharan in this World Cup. Thankfully, Lasith Malinga, right-arm slinger, expert toe-breaker, stump crackers is back in the squad, although a little rusty after the injury recovery.
In a pool that has both hosts, Australia and New Zealand, Sri Lanka yet again, have to play the growling, kicking, biting mongrel for every point. They will not be short of inspiration. Like India was buoyed up to win the 2011 World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar, most Sri Lankans, Angelo Mathews, the skipper, in particular, would do everything in their power to give their two legendary long-distance horses, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, veterans of two World Cup final losses, a fitting farewell.
Sri Lanka, with the most experienced squad in this World Cup, have more than 2000 games between them, along with two successive final losses, if one doesn’t include the T20I final losses that they’ve suffered. The top-heavy batting line-up boasts of three former captains, all probably playing their last World Cup. The inexperience in the middle order doesn’t seem a big deal though, thanks largely to Sri Lanka’s skipper, once boy-wonder, now wise-head, Angelo Matthews, who finds strange ways to resurrect almost lost causes.
With two above average seamer all-rounders in Thisara Perera and Mathews, two slingers in Lasith Malinga and Suranga Lakmal and couple of quality spinners in Rangana Herath and Sachitra Senanayake, most importantly two stalwarts in Jayawardene and Sangakkara, Sri Lanka are well-armed for the World Cup. They only need to kick-start a winning habit, which they never fail to do at the big stage!
Previous Tournament Performances:
Sri Lanka, in terms of stats, have one of the worst records in terms of wins and losses at World Cups. Interestingly, they are a classic case of how stats lie. Since winning the World Cup in 1996, defeating Australia at Lahore, Sri Lanka have reached the semi-finals in 2003 and the finals in 2007 and 2011. In each of the last three World Cups, Sri Lanka have managed to throw away an unimpressive start to peak at the right times, making them a dangerous side in the knock-outs.
14th February – New Zealand v Sri Lanka in Christchurch
22nd February – Afghanistan v Sri Lanka in Dunedin
26th February – Bangladesh v Sri Lanka in Melbourne
1st March – England v Sri Lanka in Wellington
8th March – Australia v Sri Lanka in Sydney
11th March – Scotland v Sri Lanka in Hobart
Recent Form: (last 10 ODIs)
(recent) W, L, L, L, N/R, W, L, W, W, L
Sri Lanka are eighth ranked team in terms of W/L ratio in World Cups. Their W/L ratio is 0.968 having won 31 and lost 32 games.
Kumar Sangakkara is just nine runs short of 1,000 runs in World Cups at an average of 45.04. Closely following him is Mahela Jayawardene with 975 runs at an average of 37.50.
Lasith Malinga has a phenomenal strike-rate of 20.7 when it comes to World Cups.
Players to Watch:
Angelo Mathews will be Sri Lanka’s most critical player. His accurate military medium is pretty effective, whether to break partnerships or reduce the run flow. Angelo is technically correct and has a cool head, making him an excellent number five. He also has the big shots, which means he could adapt based on what the situation demands.
Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka’s best batsman has been the top run-scorer in ODIs and Tests last year. He also leads the run charts across the world, in the last five years and ten years. That is a lot of talent, skill and consistency. Sri Lanka will need every ounce of ability from the 37-year-old along with his cricketing brain.
Lasith Malinga, probably the best death bowler in the world, has been Sri Lanka’s number one wicket-taker since 2013. He adds bite to a bowling line-up that otherwise has steady performers in Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Kulasekara. Sri Lanka will need all of his guile, experience and skill if they are to challenge the favorites at any stage.
On current form, they are not the number one, number two or even the number three favorites to win the World Cup. Sri Lanka might finish third in their pool behind Australia and New Zealand, which could pit them, in all probability against a sub-continental team, Pakistan or India. That might play right into their hands.
© Cricket World 2015