Sri Lanka threw away a golden opportunity to upstage South Africa in their Champions Trophy opener at The Oval today. Having restricted the Proteas to 299 in spite of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis scoring big, Sri Lanka started off with a bang courtesy Niroshan Dickwella.
The wicket-keeper batsman thrashed the South African bowlers to all corners of the park in an enterprising knock which came to an end when he skewed Morne Morkel to third man. Sri Lankan were well ahead of the game at that stage and had enough experienced heads to take them through.
But Imran Tahir contained them with his guile and variations. Coupled with some miraculous fielding from AB de Villiers, South Africa scripted a remarkable turnaround and cruised to victory. But Lanka will rue the fact that they let go of a game they could have won. Here we take a glance at five things Sri Lanka did wrong on the day.
#5 Omitting Lakshan Sandakan
The wily Chinaman was a useful bowler for the Sri Lankans when they played the Proteas in an ODI series in January. The likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis struggled to pick his variations in that series. Yet the Sri Lankan selectors felt that Seekkuge Prasanna would add more value to the team.
While an all-rounder is always handy, there is no substitute for a specialist and Sri Lankan definitely missed the mystery bowler when Amla and du Plessis got going in the Proteas innings. Prasanna did do his selection justice with the big wicket of de Villiers but Sandakan on a slightly sluggish pitch could have been more effective.
#4 Letting South Africa get away at the death
South Africa had a rather dour period when Amla was closing in on his hundred and Miller had not yet found his feet in the middle. Runs were difficult to come by and things worsened when the duo departed in quick succession. This brought Duminy and Morris together with less than eight overs remaining.
Sri Lankans had the opportunity to tighten the noose at that stage. Surprisingly, though, Morris and Duminy were given full balls mixed with slower ones and were barely tested with bouncers, something both batsmen struggle to deal with. Eventually, the pair put together a crucial 45 run stand in quick time to get South Africa close to 300.
#3 Failure to combat Tahir
Sri Lanka have always struggled against Imran Tahir. The leggie wrecked the Lankans in their World Cup 2015 Quarter Final clash with a four-wicket haul and was quite effective in the ODI series in January.
When Tahir came into the attack, Lanka had lost just one wicket and were going at a pretty good rate. However, their batsmen once again failed to apply themselves against the leg-spinner as he ran through the middle-order. Eventually, the target was too steep for the lower order as Lanka missed out on a fine chance to win the game.
#2 Not playing a fifth bowler
Sri Lanka fielded a bizarre playing XI today. They entrusted Seekkuge Prasanna and Asela Gunaratne with fifth bowler duties and the pair went for 72 and 64 respectively in their 10 overs.
While Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan and Nuwan Kulasekara were all available, the Lankans chose to strengthen their batting at the expense of their bowling. This meant that they ran out of options when Amla and Faf du Plessis got going.
#1 Failure to build partnerships
Sri Lanka had the target well within their sights after Niroshan Dickwella's early blitz but that changed quickly as Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal and Asela Gunaratne all failed to build on their starts.
Skipper, Upul Tharanga was holding up one end while witnessing the harakiri at the other end. None of his teammates seemed very keen on building partnerships as Tharanga was left stranded in the middle. The story repeated itself when Kusal Perera too found no companions at the other end. The failure to build partnerships and play in pairs affected Sri Lanka's chances in the chase.