Kumar Sangakkara’s men were faced with more than just the on-field opposition on their way to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 final. While their skills were tested on the field, Sri Lanka Cricket’s administration tested every ounce of their patience, making their lives extremely difficult along the way.
Lest we have forgotten, Sri Lanka were unable to acclimatise to conditions at any of their home grounds, making them aliens in their own turf, due to the incompetence of the Sri Lanka World Cup Secretariat and Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). The home team was handicapped right from the start, not knowing a thing about the surfaces they were to play on.
Yet, they overcame those odds, as only World Champions could, and have turned the tournament on its head.
Teams with fast bowlers with fearsome reputations have been unable to replicate Lasith Malinga’s magic and no other team could boast of a spin attack that consists of the world’s greatest wicket-taker, a mystery spinner and a left arm spinner who possesses his own version of the ‘carrom ball’.
Much, however, has been said about the uncertain middle order, only because they have nothing to show for, in terms of their performances, in recent times. The selectors blundered in not sticking with the same combination of batsmen for a prolonged period prior to the World Cup.
Sri Lanka’s selectors should have named their squad as early as 12 months ahead of the tournament, than weeks prior to it. This would have given those key batsmen in our middle order a sense of belonging in the side and a sense of security, knowing that they are not playing every match to justify their place in the side.
Tillakaratne Dilshan (467 runs), Kumar Sangakkara (417 runs) and Upul Tharanga (393 runs) have scored a bulk of Sri Lanka’s runs and the real test for this side will come if they fail.
Only one game stands in the way of this sport’s most prized possession and the 1996 champions’ batting may well hold the key.
Apart from the top three batsmen in their line up, the rest of Sri Lanka’s batting averages 72 runs in the tournament. Their opposition in the final will know this already and they will target a breakthrough early.
Who among Sri Lanka’s top order will present them with an opening into the middle order? It could well be Dilshan.
No matter how good you are, the odds are always stacked against any batsman trying to flay a delivery pitched on a good length, on off stump, square through the covers. This, along with his knack of perishing to the short ball, will be tested.
While Tharanga and Sangakkara have looked solid, Jayawardene has been unreliable – India will look to target him in order to bring Thilan Samaraweera early to the middle.
Samaraweera did not tour Australia in 2010 – a crucial tour in Sri Lanka’s World Cup preparations – but shortly before the World Cup the selectors had a change of heart, which left Samaraweera with a less than ideal preparation. Now, a lot depends on Chamara Silva and Samaraweera to play crucial roles in a high pressure environment and give Angelo Mathews the support he needs lower down.
Having played at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium in the group stages, Sri Lanka will know what to expect there. A vociferous home crowd and a devastating batting line up that has coped well with the Sri Lankan bowling attack in the past awaits them. How their bowlers cope with Indian batsmen on the rampage from ball one and how their top four batsmen cope in a World Cup final against a bowling attack that they too have coped well with in the past will make the difference.
The men from the island nation have been to two previous World Cup finals, winning it in 1996 and finishing runners up in 2007.
In 2007, although they were faced with a stiff 281 runs to win against Australia, the weather in Barbados got in the way of what would have been a competitive final. Let’s hope this time around that both teams won’t have to deal with Messrs Duckworth and Lewis.