So here we are – at the start of another Cricket World Cup. It seemed like only yesterday MS Dhoni swung his bat in typical helicopter fashion and heaved the final runs in the last World Cup over Nuwan Kulasekera's head, straight into the stands. It was a moment to cherish for a billion Indian fans but unfortunately a moment to quickly forget for 20 or so million Sri Lankan fans like myself.
Four years on, we are now on the cusp of another chance at glory. Another shot at lifting the most prestigious trophy in 50 over cricket. Another opportunity to replace our recent history of failed attempts with pleasant memories of Angie lifting the trophy, surrounded by Mahela & Sanga gleefully lifted on the shoulders of their fellow players as they go on one final lap of honor around the MCG. And so the question remains – can we do it?
Let's get started and look at the squad selected for CWC'15:
Angelo Matthews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara, TM Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal, Dimuth Karunaratne & Nuwan Kulasekera
In that squad of 15, we have some of the world's best cricketers who could change a game on their day. Players like Sanga, Mahela, Malinga, Dilshan, Matthews & Herath. Any neutral fan would agree that with 6 game changing players like that, we would have to be up there as one of the favorites. However due to recent form, we are far from favorites!
If you were to select the best eleven and you have the above mentioned 6 players, that's half your team automatically picking itself. Throw in Sachithra Senanayake and Kula/Thisara and you have 8, possibly 9, players locked in.
Let's have a look at this "Best 6" & reasoning behind each selection and see where the gaps in the team lies:
There has been a lot of talk about possibly trying other players at 3, but Sanga is one of the world's best batsman at number 3 so lets leave him there. Sanath Jayasuriya (chief selector) has said he wants Mahela in the middle-order – so we know that's not going to change anytime soon. Anything lower than 4 and I think we would be devaluing Mahela's opportunity to make a significant contribution. Then we have Matthews at 5, Sri Lanka's best finisher. No.5 provides the team with stability as Angelo can be the anchor if wickets fall early or push the run rate on if we need some late order hitting.
Now lets throw in Sachi, Kula & Thisara:
Kula has shown over a number of previous tours to Australia that he excels in these conditions. Yes his form of late hasn't been flash hot, but considering he is one of the most senior bowlers in the side and his ability to swing the new ball with the 2 new balls being used – Kula will be vital! Need I remind you of the damage he did the last time he came to Australia – need I remind you of his 5/22 at the Gabba (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1S44JJ1bsPg)
Now with Kula taking one of the spots, the conditions would probably be the best indicator on if Sri Lanka should play Thisara, Sachi or both. My personal preference is both. They both have experience & can both be game changers on their day. The "X factor" they both provide is vital. Sachi with his spin & Thisara with his explosive batting and raw pace.
Now there will be many fans looking at the above team & thinking our tail would be too long and we have too many bowlers. But based on the conditions and current form – bowling is where we are lacking. Pitches in Australia and New Zealand will favor our batsman. Our premier batsman (Sanga, Mahela & Dilshan) enjoy the ball coming onto the bat at pace and this has been evident with not only our recent form but also recent history. If wickets are to fall early, this is where Sanga's & Mahela's experience needs to come to the fore and provide players like Matthews & Thisara the opportunity & trust to push the run rate up later on in the innings.
Bowling wise, the above 9 players will provide Angelo with plenty of options (7 to be exact). He would have 4 pace bowlers (2 of which are able to generate pace – Malinga & Thisara – and the other two are able to generate swing & maintain good line & length – himself & Kula). In addition he would have 2 different spinners in Herath (left-arm) & Sachi (right-arm), and Dilshan to assist as well. That would provide him with plenty of options and variety to rotate the bowlers around and ensure the opposition batsmen don't settle into any sort of rhythm against our players.
That leaves 2 spots open – opening batsman and the vital no.6. Both positions are key and there is no one currently in the squad even at the door of selection, forget banging the door down. With that in mind, I believe it comes down to a process of elimination (ex. external factors such as condition, opposition, etc). So let's look at the remaining players in the squad:
Considering we have locked in our bowling, that would rule Lakmal & Chameera out straight away and put them in positions of "back-up bowlers" if one of the front liners were to go down or for some unknown reason the selectors want 5 pace bowlers.
So that leaves:
Considering we already have 3 spinners, personally I can't quite find a way to fit J Mendis into this puzzle unless the selectors opt to play him as a batsman. Which they very well might, but I don't think would be the best option. So let's leave J Mendis as another back-up player, which can be called upon should the situation (form, opposition, injuries etc) demand it.
That brings us to the final 3 which need to fit into 2:
Karunaratne & Thirimanne would be the ideal options for the opening slot but all 3 could do a job at number 6. Let's sort out the opening slot first. Karunaratne has the least experience in the 50 over format but provides a solid option at the top which would enable Dilshan to continue to play his aggressive form of batting.
But let's look at reality. In the recent past, Dilshan has ever so slightly changed his method of batting. Not sure how many of you have noticed but he hasn't quite been 'mad-hatter opener that swings at every ball of 2009' anymore. he has chosen to pick and play his shots which has brought him a lot of success, especially against the 2 new balls, and he will obviously stick to this. Which begs the question – does he need a 'foil' at the other end or someone who can keep the strike rotating and keep the run rate up?
Considering he isn't the mad-hatter of 2009 anymore, it would seem logical that the 'foil' is no longer required. Dilshan has shown the maturity and responsibility when he loses an opener early on, that he will knuckle down and work hard. In his early opening days we used to see a lot of 60s, 70s, and 80s with the odd 100 to show. These days he has converted a lot more of those starts into 100s which shows maturity. With that in mind, I think that rules Karunaratne out of contention for the opening slot, putting Thirimanne in. I hate to say it's by default, but considering the circumstances, he is the best man for the job & also provides our vice-captain with a great opportunity to make a real contribution to the team's cause.
So that leaves the number 6 slot a fight-off between Chandimal & Karunaratne.
Once again, I think Karunaratne's dis-ability to push the run rate along has a severe negative impact here. Number 6 is a position that requires the ability to put your head down and work hard if wickets fall early or go hell for leather and get that run rate going. With that in mind – once again Chandimal not only is the best option but if you look at this record in Australia, it begs for his inclusion.
D Chandimal (in Australia)
Played 14 matches- 13 innings
3 not outs
Scored 498 runs (Only Dilshan has scored more in games that has involved Chandimal)
Highest score of 81 Average of 49.80 (highest average amongst all Sri Lankan batsman in games that has involved Chandimal)
Strike rate of 79.04 (in comparison, Dilshan has a strike rate of 80.21 in games that has involved Chandimal)
*the above information was gathered on Cricinfo's Statsguru website
So with that, there you have it – Sri Lanka's best playing XI for this World Cup (or at least in my eyes with reasonable evidence):
1. TM Dilshan
2. Lahiru Thirimanne
3. Kumar Sangakkara (wk)
4. Mahela Jayawardene
5. Angelo Matthews (c)
6. Dinesh Chandimal
7. Thisara Perera
8. Nuwan Kulasekera
9. Sachithra Senanayake
10. Lasith Malinga
11. Rangana Herath
We haven't seen this eleven combine yet in any of the recent games (going back as far the World T20 victory) due to injuries, selections, etc. So we wont know how well this combination will work, but based on the above reasons I think it will work quite well and give us the best chance of winning matches.
But then again, I am not a selector, coach or captain – so all I can do is hope and put my opinion out on the internet for everyone to provide their thoughts on. So go on, tell me what you think about my "Sri Lanka" but be nice – this is my first blog post! I'd love to hear your thoughts and hopefully the guys behind Island Cricket will let me come out with another blog post soon depending on the success of this one.