Ignored kinks in Sri Lanka strike a sour note

Are there negatives when you win by 148 runs? You would hope not. And if there were, you would expect them to be minor bumps on an otherwise cruise-controlled drive down a highway. The facts: Sri Lanka scored 363 on Wednesday (March 11) and bowled out Scotland for 215. As the old cliché goes, that’s what’s in the scorebook. But the intrigue of cricket is always about the bit between the facts and figures.

Sri Lanka’s expected outcome for this game was simple. They needed to win and do it in a manner that befits a team gearing up to play the World Cup quarterfinal. By now, it should be clear that neither Scotland nor any of the associates in this tournament are minnows. Lahiru Thirimanne found out just how hard a day it would be for him early on as he waded his way to four runs off 20 balls.

It is true that Thirimanne and Tillakaratne Dilshan have combined to form a solid opening pair. But Thirimanne’s form is too inconsistent to be relied upon as a stable foundation. Having been dropped nine thousand times previously in the World Cup, he has Lady Luck’s helpful hand on him. But Wednesday’s innings was again characterised by his inability to rotate the strike, as was the case against Bangladesh, when he squeezed a half-century out of 78 balls. His lead foot and insecurities outside the off stump eventually saw him succumb. Openers get out early all the time, it’s part of the job description; but if you manage to hang in there for 20 balls, you need to make it count.

Thirimanne’s peaks and troughs have been masked by run robot Kumar Sangakkara and Dilshan. Here, of course, there were plenty of positives. The pair put on nearly 200 runs for the second wicket. If Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara are a match made in heaven, then Dilshan is the mistress that has relit the fire that burns within Sangakkara in the shorter format. Twenty hundred-run partnerships is some whirlwind romance.

Then, however, fast forward to the 34th over, where Sri Lanka are in the middle of their Achilles heel – the batting Power Play. Well placed at 215 for 1, Sri Lanka should have pushed onto a 400 total or as close to it as possible. Instead, they lost three wickets in the space of three overs.

This can happen. New batsmen can be picked off quicker. Mahela now has scores of 0, 100, DNB, DNB, 19, 2 in this WC. It’s anybody’s guess as to whether he is in form or not. But this is Sri Lanka, looking irrepressible when two senior batsmen are humming along, but falling like Jenga pieces when the foundation is pulled out from under them. Sri Lanka lost 9 for 121, the manner in which they lost the wickets deeply worrying.

The middle and lower order were in kamikaze mode, batting as if they believed whatever they had on the board at the time would be good enough. Yes, it is a World Cup in 2015 and the ball must be destroyed at all cost, but the swing-first-think-later attitude was unbecoming, albeit a sadly familiar scene. That Sri Lanka could be bowled out before their full quota of overs is alarming.

After much criticism, Sri Lanka finally fielded four frontline bowlers, another positive as Lasith Malinga continued his incremental re-entry to cricket and Nuwan Kulesekara regained some of his lost mojo. But old problems continued to haunt Sri Lanka as Thisara Perera and the main spinner in Seekkuge Prasanna were expensive, combining for 91 runs at over 6.5 runs per over. Perera failed to bowl a single delivery up to the stumps and was generally too wide. Seekuge, it must be said, had a difficult task as Sri Lanka rushed through the overs for fear of rain. This did not allow him any leeway to settle into any rhythm. However, his control was appalling.

Although the spinners in general have not been effective this World Cup, a large part of Sri Lanka’s success relies on the ability of theirs to control games in the middle overs. Rangana Herath averages 52 in four games. Senanayeke is averageless and going at over 6.5. Prasanna has bettered Sangakkara’s batting average with 134. It is clear: They are unable to contain batsmen and they are ineffective at picking up wickets. This is huge spanner in the mechanics of the Sri Lankan operation, but no one in the Sri Lankan camp has acknowledged it.

Besides, in a press conference after the Australia match, Sri Lanka’s fielding coach, Trevor Penny, said he is “happy with the fielding”. He later elaborated that “the balls are being hit much harder these days and it’s common for half chances to go down”. It will be interesting to know his thoughts after Kusal Perera dropped a sitter against Scotland. The problem isn’t that Sri Lanka are dropping half chances, it is that Sri Lanka are dropping the simple ones, often created through pressure and good bowling. Even the chances that are taken show players barely clinging onto them. There appears to be a systematic problem and a unit of men who are at an ebb when it comes to self-confidence in their fielding.

Before the match against Scotland, Marvan Attapattu, brushed aside Sri Lanka’s frailties in the death overs with the ball as being a common problem for a lot of teams. Attempting to keep an air of positivity. Angelo Mathews has been similarly blasé about several of Sri Lanka’s creeping issues.

There is a strong sense that Sri Lanka have lulled themselves into thinking that this team is working. That there is not much wrong as long as they fix a few blips. But throughout this tournament, Sri Lanka have been slow to react to what is in front of them. Like a heavy cargo tanker, creaking and grinding to a halt slowly, to reconfigure their course just before they’ve run ashore. Now Sri Lanka have seven more days to reboot. They’ve been afforded a chance due to the elongated tournament. And this they must take, because they can be sure that their opposition is aware of their issues. Focus on the negatives.

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