Uphill task for Upul and his men

Sri Lanka, after a crushing 3-0 hammering in the Test series, will look for a quick turn-around of fortunes when the five-match ODI series against India begins today in Dambulla.

Led by new ODI skipper Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka are under tremendous pressure going into the series as they must win at least two matches to secure a direct qualification for the 2019 World Cup.

Failure to do so will force Sri Lanka to join the four bottom ranked teams in playing qualification matches to secure one of two available spots for the tournament.

Sri Lanka’s recent record in ODI cricket is dismal with just four wins–two against Zimbabwe and one each against India and Bangladesh–out of 16 matches. They lost 11, among them a 5-0 defeat to the Proteas in early 2017 and a 3-2 thrashing by bottom-ranked Zimbabwe last month. But skipper Tharanga says his charges are determined to reverse fortunes during the ODI series and urged everyone to rally behind the team.

“This is the time for us to prove a point to the world, prove that we have the talent and ability regroup and win matches,” he said ” We want to win. We have a good opportunity given that we have beaten them during the Champions Trophy.”

Sri Lanka beat India when the two met at the Champions Trophy in June. But it remains doubtful whether the depleted home team can spring a surprise on the high-riding Indians who are armed with possibly one of the best bowling and batting units in the world.

Sri Lanka coach Nic Pothas giving intructions to his skipper at the team’s practice session in Dambulla

“We should try to play with confidence and the fact that we beat them in the Champions Trophy gives us lot of confidence,” Tharanga said. “We can perform well. We lack consistency and that has been a big drawback for us”.

Sri Lanka can look formidable on paper but recent history shows them consistently abandoning their fight when it matters the most. Sri Lankan batters have the potential to number among the best in the world–such as when they chased down a big total during the Champions Trophy against India–but when they are struggling, they fall like ninepins regardless of who the opponent is. Their defeat against Zimbabwe is a clear example.

In Niroshan Dickwella and Danushka Gunathilaka, Sri Lanka may have found aggressors for the top order who could score rapid runs. But too often have they perished with the rest following in procession.

Sri Lanka have solidity in Kusal Mendis but his recent form hasn’t been encouraging. He has scored just 105 runs off his last five innings—86-0-28-0 and 1 and if Sri Lanka are to do any better, Mendis needs to plough a long innings. With Gunathilka taking up the opener’s slot, skipper Upul Tharanga will bat at number four, a position long occupied by Dinesh Chandimal who is off the selectors’ radar due to poor form. Former skipper Angelo Mathews will hold the key and the news that he will be available for bowling is viewed as a major plus.

The team is without injured Asela Gunaratne and Kusal Janith Perera, two middle-order batsmen who have bailed Sri Lanka out on many occasions in recent months. This leaves Chamara Kapugedara, a capable middle-order bat, with much responsibility for providing firepower at the end of the innings along with recalled all-rounders Thisara Perera and Milinda Siriwardana.

Their bowling is better equipped with Lasith Malinga’s return but in his last two series, the 33-year-old has not delivered. He is just short of two wickets to reach 300 ODI wickets. The three-man pace attack also includes uncapped Vishwa Fernando and Dushmantha Chameera while the spin attack is led by Lakshan Sandakan supported by Wanindu Hasaranga, Akila Dananjaya and uncapped Malinda Pushpakumara.

Gurusinha floored as he listens to SLC Chairman Thilanga Sumathipala and Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera

Of late, Sri Lanka’s fielding has been atrocious. But Tharanga said a lot of emphasis has been placed on improving their fielding since then. “We lacked consistency. That has been our biggest drawback. Our fielding has been terrible too. We have dropped catches and consistency has been lacking. If you take the last series, our batting was good, but our fielding was a drawback and in the last game which we had to win our batting let us down,” Tharanga explained.

He also said that Sri Lanka is likely to go with two frontline seamers with Mathews and Perera to support.

“I Hope it will be a good wicket. We will stick to two seamers. Angelo (Mathews) and Thisara (Perera) can bowl. May be we will have one spinner,” he added.

As for India, this will give them an opportunity test their bench strength as number of senior players including spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, and pacemen Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav have been rested. This opened doors for Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal while uncapped quick Shardul Thakur may also get a chance.

Sri Lanka: Upul Tharanga (captain), Niroshan Dickwella (wicketkeeper), Dhanushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Chamara Kapugedera, Milinda Siriwardana, Malinda Pushpakumara, Akila Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan, Thisara Perera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Vishwa Fernando. India: Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (vice captain), Lokesh Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ajinkya Rahane, Kedar Jadhav, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wicketkeeper), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur. ODI Fixtures

  •  1st ODI – 20th August – Dambulla – 2.30 pm (D/N)
  •  2nd ODI – 24th August – Pallakelle – 2.30 pm (D/N)
  •  3rd ODI – 27th August – Pallekelle – 2.30 pm (D/N)
  •  4th ODI – 31st August – R. Premadasa – 2.30 pm (D/N)
  •  5th ODI – 3rd September – R. Premadasa – 2.30 pm (D/N)

The chief inspector Isn’t it unprecedented for a politician to inspect a wicket being prepared for an international cricket match? On Saturday country’s Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera joined Sri Lanka Cricket President Thilanga Sumathipala, who is also a ruling-coalition legislator in inspecting the wicket for Sunday’s opening ODI clash against India. Before that Minister Jayasekera held discussions with Sumathipala and Cricket Manager Asanka Gurusinha who is reportedly on his way out and also with players who were attending their final training sessions ahead of the opening clash.Amidst reports that Sri Lanka Team Manager Asanka Gurusinha is being sidelined over differences with the SL Cricket authorities, he seems in the way of getting steamrolled by a groundsman at Dambulla yesterday

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