In the last 2 games, the total of Sri Lanka's batting currently reads as – 644 for 2 in 97.2overs. That's a run-rate of 6.62 rpo.
It certainly makes for pleasant reading for Sri Lankan fans, especially those of us who did not believe the team had the fire power to consistently hit 300+ scores. Sri Lanka have now done it in consecutive games and only lost 2 wickets in the process. It seems as though the batsman have, not so much stumbled, but formed a plan on how best to utilize their skills to post and/or chase 300+ scores.
After the New Zealand game in the World Cup, Mahela Jayawardene said "We have to realise why 300 is possible here. Some of the venues are very small, and the two new balls make the last 15 overs tough. It's about getting though that first 30-35 overs with wickets in hand, then you can accelerate. So you have to pick up early wickets and keep taking them through the middle". This was true even at the MCG, which is one of the biggest cricket grounds in the world. It was the strategy that worked, so let's have a look at that strategy.
Sri Lanka is not a team that has the power hitters in the middle order to come in and capitalize on the batting powerplay and the last 10 overs. Yes we have Thisara Perera and Angelo Matthews, but mind you, they are no AB Devilliers, Glen Maxwell, MS Dhoni, Corey Anderson or any of the West Indian lower order. So Sri Lanka had to come up with a way to capitalize on this crucial block of 15 overs that could take a team from a sub par 250 score to a commanding 300-310+. The best way forward was to keep wickets in hand, let the openers & top order build their innings and get their eye in. This way we may not have big hitters, but we have batsman that are able to manufacture shots and play strategic shots that bring the most value, at the crease with their eye in and a minimum of 40+ runs to their name after facing a minimum of 40+ balls.
Then throw in the likes of Perera and Matthews in the last 10 overs, if we are to lose a wicket, and we seem to have the right combination to finally put on those big 300+ scores.
The biggest test of this strategy is waiting at Sri Lanka's next game versus one of the finest bowling attacks going around at the moment. Australia's pace battery will most definitely test Sri Lanka's batting on Sunday, as we have already seen with the likes of Johnson and Starc they have not only bowlers who can bowl fast and at your head, but also swing it at the same time playing in their backyard. The one benefit of playing at SCG though is, it is known to be a slower pitch that is conducive to spin. This may tempt the Aussies to pick Xavier Doherty at the expense of one their pace bowlers. Alternatively, the Aussies may choose to play Maxwell as their frontline spinner and keep the pace attack together.
In fact Australia's fast bowling stocks just got a lot stronger with the impending return of James Faulkner. He is most certainly Australia's death bowling king with his variations and accuracy. He is Malinga at his peak, wearing an Australian uniform and bowling with a normal action. At the moment there is all this talk about who out of Watson and Marsh will get dropped for Faulkner. But personally with Pat Cummins injury, I think the best way forward for the Aussies is to pick Faulkner to replace Cummins. There by you have a like for like pace bowler replacement and they will strengthen their batting.
Australia are going to be smarting after their loss to New Zealand. The good thing about this is it will ensure Sri Lanka come prepared. They certainly wont be taking the Australian game for granted considering what's on the line for our boys. A win and we will possibly play West Indies/Ireland in a quarter final at our favourite ground in Australia/New Zealand, the SCG. A loss, and we will be pitted against South Africa at the SCG.
If we want to win on Sunday against Australia there are 2 clear departments that need urgent remedy. And it definitely needs to be fixed before we get to the quarters or we could kiss our World Cup hopes good bye! Those 2 departments are the fielding and death bowling.
Let's have a look at some of the runs that we have conceded after dropping catches of the same batsman:
K Williamson – dropped on 0 – ended up scoring 57
C Anderson – dropped on 2 – ended up scoring 75
A Haque – dropped on 0 – ended up scoring 29
J Root – dropped on 2 – ended up scoring 121
I Bell – dropped on 2 – ended up scoring 49
*I would like to point out, I have only chosen the catches that should be caught at an international level and the first catch dropped of these batsman. So effectively Sri Lanka have dropped more catches than the ones detailed above, but these were the first.
Now lets look at each game situation if Sri Lanka were to have held on to those catches:
Game 1 – NZ 199 all out (+50-75 runs = 250-275 vs 331)
Game 3 – Bangladesh 211 all out
Game 4 – England 188 all out (+50-75 = 230-250 vs 309)
Now I understand if we held on to those catches, there is also every chance another batsman could have gone on to score a big score, but we can only go on what had happened. Even SL were to hold on to the catches and you give each of the opposition teams another 50-75 runs, it still looks a lot better than what actually happened.
Just like in batting where capitalizing on those last 15 overs is the difference between a sub par 250 score and a commanding 300+ score, taking our catches is the difference between conceding a 300+ score and bowling out a team for 250.
If we are to beat Australia on Sunday, taking any chances that come our way is crucial. We can't afford to give the likes of Warner, Finch, Clarke, Watson & Maxwell more opportunities than they deserve. They will punish us just like all the batsman before them have.
The death bowling will fall into place if our fielding is backing them up. We take those early wickets and then suddenly the death bowling seems a lot easier having to bowl to lower-middle order batsman who don't have many wickets left.
I am confident the boys are working hard at it and it will come together. The question is when, and will it come together soon enough. Hopefully for the sake of the boys and all their fans around the world, we see one of Sri Lanka's best efforts on the field on Sunday because we are going to need it. If we can get our fielding right, I believe we will be one of the most dangerous teams left in this World Cup!
Finally, I would like to thank everyone for sharing and reading my last blog post (Dear Mr Sanath Jayasuriya) and all your support. I understand there were some readers who did not agree with me and there were the majority who agreed wholeheartedly with me. But what everyone needs to remember, is that these are simply my own views. Not those of officials or anyone else unless I say so in the article. So thank you for your support and I look forward to plenty more interactions with all my readers in the future!