Contrasting fortunes of England and Sri Lanka
3 years back, England toured Sri Lanka for a 7-match ODI series as preparation for the World Cup 2015. Thrashed 5-2 by a rampant Sri Lankan side, England's outdated ODI approach earned criticism from all quarters. Shoddy calls and selections were made right before the World Cup. Skipper Alastair Cook was stripped of the captaincy and dropped from the squad altogether. An out-of-form Eoin Morgan was made skipper.
During the World Cup, all-rounder Ravi Bopara was not given enough games, with Gary Ballance preferred over him. This despite consistent performances, especially with the bat, for England. The side was in disarray, knocked out of the group stages after failing to overcome Bangladesh. 3 years later, they are the number one side in the world, with captain Morgan firmly established as England's best ever white ball skipper. A completely revamped side, a slew of white ball specialists who play with their heart on their sleeves have been central to this rise.
Moving to the opposite camp - the Lankans.
During the same 2014 series, they were regularly carried through by stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Sangakkara, in particular, displayed stunning form, carrying it all the way to the World Cup. Now, however, only a few players from that golden team remain. Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, and Angelo Mathews are part of the select few remaining from that squad. Mathews, however, has been dropped from the side, with questions being asked over his fitness and running between the wickets. Sri Lanka has had a wretched run in ODIs of late, losing 30 of their last 40 ODIs.
The leadership hasn't been stable too, with 5 different captains over these game. Dinesh Chandimal has been reinstated as a captain. The onus lies on him to bring Sri Lanka out of the shambles. But he must also understand his value to the team as a batsman, Though scoring runs consistently when given an opportunity, his strike rates have raised eyebrows, with Sri Lanka being accused of playing an outdated brand of cricket. Things can only get better from this stage, and Chandimal takes heart from England's resurgence after the 2015 World Cup. Looking to learn from the opponents, Chandimal said "I actually did go back and look at where England was in one-dayers - they didn't even make it out of the group stage of the 2015 World Cup."
"They were really struggling back then. One of the main things they have got right since then is that their fielding has been excellent. That's a big lesson for us because we're in a similar place to where they were in terms of one-day cricket. If we can apply those lessons, then we will be able to defeat this No. 1 team, and it could be a big turning point for us."
"That's the biggest change we are trying to make in this series - give priority to our fielding and give it a lot of attention," Chandimal said. "We know that with the opposition's batting or bowling, you can't control that on the day, but we can control our attitude and energy on the field. That's one area we've identified - somewhere we've failed in one-day cricket. In the last few days, we worked really hard on our fielding individually and as a group."
Acknowledging the need for him to step up, the skipper said "When I first arrived I batted very aggressively, but after you play for a while you are burdened with team responsibilities and maybe have to play a different way."
"There have been some setbacks along the way in one-day cricket. But a lot of the time now the coach is talking to me about going back to my normal game now. I'm thinking about playing the ball on its merits rather than thinking too much about the match situation. I think I've had some success with that over the last few weeks. I'm hoping for more in this series."
Results won't follow immediately. It would be wrong to expect Sri Lanka to bounce back immediately and go on a winning streak. However, it's the right time to set the tone. Set high standards and try to achieve them through relentless hard work and passion in the players.
After all, it is better late than never.