Friday, February 4, 2011

Team Sri Lanka, World Cup 2011

GROUP A (Australia, Canada, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe)

ODI Rank - 3
ODI Rating - 118

Last World Cup - Runner-up
Finals Appearances - 2
Best in a World Cup- Winner 1996


Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath.

Strength - Excellent batting, home advantage, variety in bowling
Weakness - Not many "probing" bowlers


Thought to be one of the most favourites to claim the jewel, Sri Lanka will back themselves to clinch it, like they did it the last time it came to the sub-continent - with authority. If there is one team apart from India that knows the Indian conditions (apart from their own home conditions), it must be Sri Lanka, who have been in India for almost as much time as Indian team has been in India. Sri Lankan team has mixed bag of luck as far as its performance goes. They lost to India, won against India and then lost to them and won and lost and won and blah blah blah in the past yr or 2 in India or at home or at Asia cup, apart from a charred tour of Pakistan, and a happy tour of Australia.

Well, 11 of the 15 members in the squad have been picked from the squad that defeated Australia in a 3-match pointless ODI series played out in Australia. SL couldn't play an ODI game vs the WI in 2010, after Lord Rain bailed them out in a couple of tests from an embarrassing home loss to WI. WI are now in SL to play 3 games in non-WC host grounds, Rain bailed the Lankans out in the first game, but SL FINALLY managed to win one on their own amidst rain threats. They did field their full strength WC squad for the series. So, it is virtually, match practice.

SL top order is strong, to say the least. The conventionally attacking Tharanga will be partnered by the unconventionally attacking Dilshan. Both can, in isolation, take the scoring rate beyond 8 an over before the 1st powerplay is done with. Tharanga is strong on the off-side. Dilshan is strong in-front and behind the wickets, well, literally. When someone scoops a pace bowler with such ease as throwing a pea in the ocean, the captain and bowlers got to have some serious strategy. But, one little weakness is, Dilshan doesn't move his feet much AND is not that stable in his stance, which sometimes costs him too many play-and-misses, and he succumbs if he finds his strike rate drops below 80, and then on its a domino effect. So, one has to have good line and length vs the opening pair.

Par opening, come the duo or Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Sangakkara, the captain, is aggressive on loose balls, good against pace and spin and likely to relish home conditions. Ex-captain Jayawardene is the right handed batsman with similar description as Sangakkara. Jayawardene has amassed a huge load of runs at home, and not much away from home. Well, that fact actually helps him now. Sangakkara's technique, of trigger movement before delivery stride has an unsettling effect on bowlers, and has helped him score on his leg side with ease. If bowler over-pitches on the off, it's played through covers. J'wardene is great in-front of the wicket and square on both sides.

Middle order will also feature Kapugedera, Samaraweera and Matthews. Kapugedera and Samaraweera, both have the capability of consolidating the innings in the middle and accelerating towards the end. The fact that Samaraweera has been able to change gears from his test form to the ODIs has helped SL do away with the worry of filling a middle order void. One big find for SL in the recent times, has been Angelo Matthews. This young lad can handle pressure situations like it was his day job, bat through the overs, accelerate, milk the bowling, and bowl 8-10 overs of medium-fast pace with good accuracy. For those who are looking for an efficient youngster, this fellow is surely going to be on the podium of that race! Back-up middle order batsman would be Chamara Silva, who is capable of holding the innings together, in the event of top order failing to do so. Neat and handy, but I doubt if he would be required with all the major names in the top order back in the side. Nevertheless.

As for the bowling - SL have good ammunition for both pace and spin.

Spin department will be headed by the Magician, Muttiah Muralitharan, and will have the services of Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis to assist him. Murali... we know what Murali is and what he can do on his day. This is going to be his last world cup (last ODI tournament too, I think). Having finished test career on a high, he would want to repeat that in the ODI format too. The home conditions will favour him a lot, for sure. Mendis, known for his bag of tricks, somehow gives me the feeling that the bag has now become transparent. He has been "decoded" since his first year in international cricket. People are able to play him with ease (bat in front of pad technique). But, a little flaw by the batsman is all that is needed to dislodge him, which is why the canny Mendis is still a lethal weapon in subcontinental conditions. Rangana Herath, the surprise inclusion to the squad, found himself ahead of Suraj Randiv. Herath is not a big turner of the ball, but maintains a very tight line outside the off of a right hander. When Pakistan and Sri Lanka played test series in mid-'09, Herath brought home victories from impossible situations, bowling Pak out cheaply while having just a meagre total to defend in both cases.

Pace department will be shared by the Slinga Malinga and the accurate Kulasekara. Malinga has 2 sets of operation - york/full, and short. A surprise thrid would be slow and full/good-length. If one can spot which one is coming at him at what moment, surely, he is a genius! In the recent ODIs vs the WI, he proved why he is such a terror to batsmen. He reverses the ball very easily, thanks to is round arm (flat-arm?) action, it is naturally easy to reverse. Kulasekara, to me has been one of the most under-rated bowlers. He ranked at the top for a long time, but was never given the respect he deserved. Opponents took him lightly, and THAT was a grave grave mistake. His natural line is to swing the ball into the right hander. So, batsmen will find it difficult to drive him with ease, since he keeps the balls full and straight. Many are out lbw, or bowled through the gates. One might see a silly mid-on in place too. He is not pacy, but he doesn't need pace. Thisara Perera is their back-up paceman. He would feature in the XI if SL opt for an extra pacer over spinner in a 4 pacer (including Matthews)- 1 spinner strategy. I would still, have preferred Thilan Thusara over Perera. Thusara, to me, is more attacking than Perera.

SL play Canada, Pakistan, Kenya, Australia, Zimbabwe and NZ in that order. All except the NZ game on home soil. They have enough time to prepare for big games, and have the freedom to try out bench strength during the alternative lighter games.

Sri Lanka would remember the dark times from the finals of 2007 world cup. They really were dark, finished in pitch black evening sky, the glimmering flash-lights from cameras sizzling the ground like a party night, and Australia celebrated their victory of the worst ever organized world cup. It is now time for them to brush the memories aside and brighten the field up with the pool of talent that has considered Jayasurya and Vaas as excess, and look to give Murali the ultimate gift he deserves. They have what it takes to be the champion, they will be playing most games in their own back-yard, and they will be looking to host their own QF and SF.

I say, they can be one of the two finalists. Can they win it? Yes. Will they win it? You will see...

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