World Cup champions in 1996 and runners-up in 2007 and 2011 and 2015’s losing quarter-finalists, Sri Lanka are not as strong as the glory days of the big-hitting Sanath Jayasuriya, web-spinning Muttiah Muralitharan and company. Hampered by allegations of corruption, a veritable captaincy turnstile, a slew of injuries and general poor form, they’ve slipped to below Bangladesh in the International Cricket Council’s rankings for ODI teams. A few more defeats might even see them slide under Afghanistan.
Test specialist Dimuth Karunaratne, who has not played ODI cricket in four years, has been appointed captain of the World Cup squad. This perplexing choice is offset by the reassuring presence of Australian fielding coach Steve Rixon and England batting coach Jonathan Lewis. The pair will bring measure, calculation and disciplined to a setup longing for professionalism. Lewis’ knowledge of English conditions will be important to a batting group reared on low, slow sub-continental pitches – and Rixon’s input should positively influence one of the weaker fielding units in world cricket.
Batsman to bank on
Sri Lanka don’t sport a single representative among the ICC’s rankings for ODI batsmen top 30, but down in joint-34th position are wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella and the veteran Angelo Mathews. Largely inexplicably, Dickwella, has been overlooked for this World Cup, leaving the burden and onus on Mathews. Injuries have seen the former captain bowl substantially less in international cricket, but the other half of the all-rounder’s offering remains on point. He will head into the World Cup on the back of a solid stretch of List A form, having landed a fine century and a couple of complementary cameos for Dambulla last month.
Bowler to bet on
Pace ace Lasith Malinga has remained a relative constant in an ever-changing Sri Lankan bowling attack – and was recently elevated to the T20I captaincy. He was not entirely consistent for the Mumbai Indians in the 2019 Indian Premier League, but a remarkable showing in the closing throes of a tense final against the Chennai Super Kings reminded all and sundry of near unparalleled cool, calm and collection under pressure.
Two of the most obvious dark horses at this World Cup will be Sri Lanka and New Zealand. They will meet in Cardiff, Wales, early in the tournament – and rekindle a 40-year ODI rivalry. Sri Lanka have lost more than the Black Caps in the 98-match expanse, but the 99th might tighten the gap.
Victories over Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the West Indies will have to be supported by more over Pakistan and New Zealand, if a semi-final berth is to remain possible. Those are probabilities rather than instabilities, though, leaving Sri Lanka bound for mid-table mediocrity.