KARACHI: Ever since the retirement of stalwarts like Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka have found going tough in international cricket.
The Islanders were routinely amongst the most competitive sides in the world but in the past 12 months, especially, their graph has slipped significantly.
They have an abysmal bunch of numbers in ODI cricket since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand with just 22 wins in 69 matches along with 42 defeats.
Also, amongst the top ten ODI ranked sides, Sri Lanka’s win-loss ratio (O.523) is only better than the West Indies (0.406).
Their final ODI assignment before the Asia Cup was the home series against South Africa — which is a glaring instance of their decline bearing in mind their impressive track record in home conditions.
Although the scoreline of the series showed that they lost by margin of 3-2 but it is worth mentioning the fact that the matches they won were both dead rubbers after having lost the first three ODIs consecutively.
Their only bilateral ODI series wins against Test playing nations since the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand came against the West Indies in November 2015 and Ireland in June 2016.
The 31-year-old all-rounder Angelo Mathews — who was reappointed as the captain for Sri Lanka in January 2018 for ODIs and T20I for the second time in less than six months after he resigned from the position — will be in charge of marshaling the troops during the event. He will be keen on leading the side from the front especially in the batting department. Mathews has scored 277 runs at an average of 69.25 in 2018 so far and he will be keen on improving his numbers especially bearing in mind the absence of Dinesh Chandimal — who was ruled out of the Asia Cup due to injury in a domestic — in the middle order.
Chandimal’s replacement wicket-keeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella orginal omission from the Asia Cup contingent raised some eyebrows as he has fared quite well at the top of the order for the side. Dickwella has been Sri Lanka’s second highest run-score in ODIs over the past two years having scores 1228 runs helped by two centuries and six half-centuries.
Sri Lanka’s cricket selectors have also recalled fast-bowler Lasith Malinga after he remained excluded from the side for an year due to recurring injury issues. The 35-year-old was largely ignored since his last ODI appearance in September last year against India in Colombo when he took only one wicket for 35 runs.
Malinga made his way into the side on the back of some good performances in the domestic T20 event and the Islanders would be hoping that he can use his form and experience of playing the game for such a long time to good effect in the upcoming Asia Cup.
Sri Lanka have always been one of the better performers at the Asia Cup having won the title five times — with their last title win coming back in 2014 — but in order to add to those title Sri Lankan team have to fare significantly better than they have done in the recent past in the fifty-over format.
Sri Lanka will face Bangladesh in the tournament opener on September 15 in Dubai while they will play their second match against Afghanistan at Abu Dhabi on September 17.
Vs Bangladesh- Matches 44, won 36, lost 6,
Vs Afghanistan- Matches 2, won 2, lost 0,
Asia Cup- Matched 48, won 24, lost 14
Asia Cup Achievements
Five time winners
Last time won the title in 2014
Best win-loss ratio (2.428)
Upul Tharanga (Batsman)
Like most left-handed batsmen, watching Upul Tharanga bat is a pleasant sight whenever he gets going. Since making his ODI debut in 2005 against West Indies at Dambulla, Tharanga has largely remained inconsistent throughout his career but since the retirement of Sangakkara and Jayawardene after the 2015 World Cup he has been a fairly regular member of the national side.
In the past couple of years, he has been Sri Lanka’s highest run score in ODI cricket with 1347 runs at an average of 42.09 and a strike rate of 84.82. Both the average and strike rate are better than his overall figures showcasing the improvement he has brought to his game.
His performance was disappointing during the recently concluded five-match ODI series against South Africa at home where he was able to muster just 93 runs in five innings. Despite the below par numbers in that series, the Lankan side will rely on him to provide good start to the innings and lay the platform for a good total on the board.
Keeping in mind the fact that the team is going through a transitional phase, Tharanga and his experience will be one of the keys to team success at Asia Cup.
Thisara Perera (All-rounder)
Thisara Perera is probably one of the cleanest hitters of the cricket ball in world cricket currently — posing a massive threat to opponents while batting lower down the order – while his ability to bowl cleverly at the death adds potency to the fairly inexperienced bowling lineup.
After making his debut against India at Kolkata in 2009, Perera has consistently shown that he possesses all the traits of a quality modern day all-rounder — his batting his merciless when on song, can provide wickets with his changing bowling variety in the middle and death overs while he has also come a long way in the fielding department with improved efforts with past time — but his inconsistent performances is a sign of worry.
With Mathews playing largely as a batsman over the past 18 months or so, Perera remains the team’s best bet in terms of all-rounders and probably the reason why he keeps getting a national team call-up soon after he is dropped.
By picking up 18 wickets in ten matches at an average of 19.38, Perera is the team’s highest wicket-taker in 2018 — something which he will continue to keep up in the Asia Cup as well.
Perera is also amongst the few rare bowlers who have the distinction of picking up a hat-trick in both ODIs and T20Is.
Akila Dananjaya (Bowler)
Akila Dananjay made his ODI debut against New Zealand at Hambantota in 2012 after he was picked up to represent the national side despite not playing even a single professional match as he had impressed former captain Mahela Jayawardene in the nets through his bowling.
Although the spinner remained out of reckoning for four years soon after being fast-tracked into the side but since his return in 2017 Dananjaya’s consistent performances have made him a regular member of the side over the past year.
Although Sri Lanka lost the series against South Africa, Dananjaya routinely troubled the South African batsmen with his off-spin bowling — which offered of variety of different variations — and picked up 14 wickets in five matches at an average of 17.85 which helped him become the highest wicket-taker in the series.
If bowling stats of Sri Lankan bowlers is looked at for the past two years, Dananjaya’s numbers are quite impressive. He is the second highest wicket-taker with 35 wickets in 23 matches to his name which also included two five-wicket hauls as well.
The pitches in UAE will have something in it for the spinners to utilise and this is why Dananjaya could play a vital role as the team’s wicket-taker — especially in the middle overs.