One of Sri Lanka’s challenges leading up to the World Cup has been finding a partner for Dilshan. Often, Dilshan’s partners has departed within the first five overs, if not sooner, giving the opposition that highly desired early wicket and putting Sri Lanka’s three best batsman under a lot of pressure. Upul Tharanga and Kusal Perera have both failed rather hopelessly. Lahiru Thirimanne had been tried as an opener with some success in the subcontinent, but seems better suited down under at number six. Jayawardena ironically is perhaps the best ODI opening batsman in the country, but it is hard to argue with the fact that he is needed to guide the middle order.
Conditions in New Zealand and Australia will certainly trouble subcontinent batsman, especially early in the innings with two new balls. With very little time left for experimenting, perhaps what the team should look for at this point is not necessarily a ‘oneday’ opening batsman capable of scoring fast, but someone who can provide stability at the top. Kaushal Silva has a proven record as an opening batsman in difficult conditions away from the subcontinent and could be the ideal candidate to provide stability at the top and allow the more naturally aggressive seniors the opportunity to bat freely around him.
The batting power play as an opportunity to increase the run rate is not suited to the style of cricket played by Sri Lankans. There is no doubt, more often than not, the batting power play has resulted in failure than success for Sri Lanka. The batting power play has also been a curse to the younger generation of middle order batsman. Often, the likes of Chandimal, Thirimanne and Priyanjan walk in to bat right before or during the batting power play that is typically taken starting at the 36th over.
The pressure of having to score quickly right away or simply having to bat outside of their natural instinct is not something that young Sri Lankan batsman are accustomed to. Sri Lankan batsman are more comfortable when allowed to play their natural game, which is to graft early and go for their shots once settled. Some of the more successful Sri Lankan ODI middle order players like Mahanama, Ranatunga, Thilakaratne and Arnold all batted to a plan that included taking time to settle by pushing for singles early on and attacking later. Angelo Mathews is perhaps the greatest example of this. While he has been one of the most successful ODI batsman in the world, he seldom relies on the batting power play.
It is time that Sri Lanka accepts that the batting power play as an opportunity to score quickly isn’t a feasible option. Rather, it is time to try and use the batting power play as a tactic to dictate how and when Sri Lanka wants the opposition to use its bowlers. Taking the power play as early as possible will;
- Force the opposition to use up overs of their best bowlers up front and against Sri Lanka’s best batsman who would be better equipped to handle them
- Allows Sri Lanka’s best and most experienced batsman more scoring opportunities against the harder newer ball
- Free the young middle order batsman from the pressure of walking in closer to a power play and being forced to bat against their natural style
- Force the opposition to bowl their best bowlers in shorter spells during the middle and end overs and their second string bowlers more in the same period, thus providing less pressure for the younger middle order
Needless to say, match and pitch conditions will have to be factored in when deciding how early to take the power play.
Tissara Perera no doubt is a phenomenal player, on his day. The problem however is that he has not come good anywhere nearly as often as the team needs. When he is off, he is neither a bowler nor a batsman and as of late, not even a reliable fielder. It is easy to see the fascination in wanting to believe in him no matter how frequently he disappoints. After all, when he comes good, it makes everyone believe that he alone could win a world cup for Sri Lanka. However, to cling on to hope with Tissara could turn out to be as bad a mistake as flirting with guilty pleasures.
Chief of selectors was right when he said that the team needs a medium fast batting all-rounder. Perhaps finding the answer to that might warrant giving Mahroof another opportunity. Counting on the combination of Dilshan and an injury prone Mathews as the fifth bowler leaves little options if and when one of the four bowlers have an off-day or injury for that matter. A player with Mahroof’s ability can provide stability to the middle order while also allowing for flexibility in bowling options and team composition.
The series against England is perhaps the last chance for experimenting. The selectors need to give a lot of thought in to how they plan on approaching the World Cup tactically and then select the right players to put those plans in to test. In 1996, it was the out of box thinking that lead to the mouth watering and exciting ‘Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana’ show that fueled the fire in the team. Times have changed and this time around, it might very well be that the path to success comes from going back to some old fashion cricket with a test opener, conventional all-rounder and grafters who flourish towards the end.