Sri Lanka sprung a surprise by defeating Pakistan 2-0 in the Test series in the UAE, but their loss in the first ODI in Dubai highlighted their struggles in the format. They have lost 17 of 22 ODIs this year and won just four, which is a win-loss ratio of 0.235. None of the top Test nations have had such a poor record, in terms of win-loss ratio, in any calendar year in which they have played 20 or more ODIs.
The previous worst win-loss ratio was West Indies’ 0.266 (won 4, lost 15) in 2009. For Sri Lanka, the worst before this was in 1999, when they won 12 and lost 20. In 2017, Sri Lanka have lost a series against Zimbabwe, and suffered 5-0 drubbings against South Africa and India, only managing a drawn home series against Bangladesh.
Much of Sri Lanka’s troubles in ODIs are down to poor bowling. Opposition teams have scored 47.31 runs per wicket against Sri Lanka this year, which is the worst average for any team that has played 20 or more ODIs in a year. The next three places in this table are occupied by Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka’s previous worst bowling average in a calendar year was 36.56 in 2015.
Sri Lanka have conceded eight totals of 300 or more and two others in the 290s this year. No other team has conceded as many 300-plus totals; the next highest on the list are India and England with six each.
Batsmen offer respite
Sri Lanka’s batsmen have done relatively better. They have helped put up six 300-plus totals, third only to England (10) and India (8). They have also starred in a couple of big wins: among their four victories this year, two came in 300-plus chases. They first stunned India in the Champions Trophy at The Oval, chasing down 322 for the loss of just three wickets, and then chased down 311 against Zimbabwe in Hambantota. Apart from those two successful chases, they also came relatively close to South Africa’s 367 in Cape Town in February, eventually falling short by 40 runs. In fact, Sri Lanka have 3-7 win-loss record in chases, compared to 1-10 when batting first, which also suggests that the bowling has been their weaker suit.
Three of Sri Lank’s six 300-plus scores came when batting first, but they lost all matches, including two home games against Zimbabwe. Before this year, a 300-plus target had never been successfully chased in Sri Lanka, but Zimbabwe managed it in Galle, and also overhauled a revised target of 219 in 31 overs after Sri Lanka scored 300 in Hambantota. Those chases are another damning indictment of Sri Lanka’s bowlers this year. Their premier bowler Lasith Malinga, who made a comeback in the Champions Trophy, has averaged 62.30 picking 10 wickets in 13 games – the third-worst average among 20 bowlers who delivered 100-plus overs in ODIs this year. Apart from Akila Dananjaya, who is their highest wicket-taker (15 scalps at 24.53 ), none of the others average under 25.
Overall, their batting average of 29.89 isn’t great: only West Indies and Zimbabwe have done worse, among the top-10 teams. But their bowling average is 1.58 times worse than their batting average. The difference between runs per wicket scored and conceded is a staggering 17.42, which is the second-highest for any team playing 20 or more ODIs in a year.
In terms of run rates, Sri Lanka have scored at 5.23 an over but conceded 6.07, a difference of 0.84 runs per over. The difference in their batting and bowling run rates is also the worst among all teams in a year playing 20-plus ODIs, excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. They are the only team to concede runs at over six an over this year and their scoring rate is better only than West Indies among top-10 sides.
Sri Lanka’s performance in the first ODI against Pakistan in Dubai wasn’t unlike the rest of their year: they conceded 48.66 runs per wicket and scored only 26.12. That led to their eighth straight ODI defeat, which equals their longest losing streak: they had lost eight in a row between October 1998 and January 1999 as well. Their current sequence began with defeats in the last two ODIs to Zimbabwe, and then came the 5-0 drubbing against India.
They have seven more ODIs to play before the year ends – four in this series and three against India in December. Given that Pakistan have lost three of their last four ODI series in the UAE while India have won eight of their last nine at home, the next four games might be the best opportunities for Sri Lanka to improve their ODI record for the year. For that, though, the whole team, especially their bowlers, will need to significantly improve their numbers.