World Cup Predictions: Can the real Sri Lanka please step up?
With a superfluity of problems miring Sri Lanka's World Cup preparations, the Island nation would enter the tournament without the favourites tag.
The team has a minefield to clear ahead of them, with the playing XI unable to put satisfactory performances. Rumour mills are spinning tales of a supposed plan to oust Chaminda Vaas, the current bowling coach, and bring Champaka Ramanayake. The cricket board was accused of being the third most corrupted institution in Sri Lanka, in the recent parliamentary summoning. To top everything off, the chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya is resigned to the fact that Dimuth Karunaratne's inclusion in the World Cup squad was an impetuous decision gone awry.
What the current team needs is a source of inspiration: it can be an innings that flies in the face of adversities to turn the match on its own head or a determined bowling effort that rewrites the game's destiny in the space of a spell.
But as it often has been, this very team finds motivation when a nexus of external plights surrounds the team. Last year, when Sri Lanka won the T20 World Cup, the team realised the need to galvanize when a contract dispute raised its head. One can only hope that the cloud of trouble surrounding Sri Lanka cricket can once again provide the team the impetus to turn the tables.
The mountain to climb
The Sri Lankan top order glistens with the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara showing great form. The top 5 have played an average of 37 overs in the last 13 ODIs. This means the lower order has to come out and go all guns blazing at the death, which they have failed to do. Sri Lanka's number 6 and 7 are both very poor in terms of strike-rate and inconsistent when it comes to their performances.
Despite being given an extended run in the ongoing ODI series against New Zealand, Jeevan Mendis's performance with both bat and ball has been unbecoming. Thisara Perera has not been in the greatest of nick either, which has resulted in Sri Lanka squandering the foundations laid by the top order.
Sri Lanka will want Angelo Mathews to bat a position down, in order to give an inning the finishing touch it deserves. The team management will also have to have fly in Farveez Maharoof to supplant the misfiring Mendis.
Finding the firepower to clear boundaries is Sri Lanka's obstacle, and the only player in the top 7 who is capable of doing so is Mathews. Sri Lanka need another player who can hit big. Hopefully, the selectors will realise it before it is too late.
Worst case scenario
Given the recent performances of the Sri Lankan team, they are most likely to lose against all Australia, New Zealand, and England. Bangladesh is an unpredictable team, and a defeat against them would definitely seal Sri Lanka's World Cup hopes. Ironically, the last time Sri Lanka were eliminated in the first round of a World Cup, which is in 1999, they had a local coach as well.
Casting away any possible upsets, the Lankan team is likely to advance to the quarters positioned number four from Pool A.
This would mean that Sri Lanka are likely to face up either South Africa or India in the quarter-finals, which literally means curtains.
If the real Sri Lanka step up
Sri Lanka have the knack of stepping up during ICC tournaments, and if they can at least show remote glimpses of that, this team can beat both England and New Zealand.
Yes, the team may have lost 4 matches to New Zealand, but Sri Lanka have the upper hand over the Kiwis in World Cups. Sri Lanka sent New Zealand home in the semi-finals of both 2007 and 2011 games in addition to beating them in the preliminary games.
This would place Sri Lanka at number 2 in their pool and would pit them against West Indies or Pakistan. While Pakistan can be a dangerous opponent for Sri Lanka, if they face the Windies, they have a great chance of making it to their fourth consecutive semi-finals.
In the semi-finals, Sri Lanka will face either South Africa or India. Once again, the Islanders will have to play our of their skins to get any chance of getting closer to the final. But even if they get everything right, the road seems to end to them at semi-final stages.
The flag bearer
The current team needs a hero: not the sort of hero who would conventionally win them matches, but a hero who is audacious, adventurous and does not mind foraying into the land of unorthodoxy. The nation needs a fearless risk-taker in the middle who can make the team believe even in the face of defeat looming against them. None of Dilshan, Sangakkara or Mahela can be that hero, as responsibility has rendered ineffective their natural flair.
Mathews has become too sedate to be venturesome, and the only player left in Sri Lanka's ranks to be the flag bearer is Dinesh Chandimal. With a sound technique, his penchant to idiosyncrasy and aversion to getting bogged down would make him the ideal proposition in the lackluster, lackadaisical middle order. Chandimal averages around 49 in Australia, and his love for the pacy tracks can help him score heavily, provided he is given a chance in the middle order.
The big 3 of Sri Lanka can give the foundation in almost every game, but to launch from that point, you need a batsman like Chandimal. There is where the team needs someone who can make a difference, and the cherubic, buoyant youngster appears to be the go-to man.