Setting the tone in the first 10 overs and ensuring the Sri Lankan side stick together over the next seven weeks are Dimuth Karunaratne’s two main tasks for this World Cup.
Sri Lanka were beaten by South Africa by 87 runs in their first of two warm-up games ahead of the World Cup. And Karunaratne knows what the priorities are for his side ahead of their opening game against New Zealand in Cardiff.
“The selectors want a guy who can bat for a long period,” Karunaratne said. They want me to bat really well in the first 10 overs and get the momentum going and leave a few overs for Thisara (Perera) and those kinds of players. That’s what they told me: keep doing what you do in Test series.”
Karunaratne top-scored with 87 runs off 92 balls after opening the batting against a fired up and fit-again Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada. He helped Sri Lanka recover from 10/2 and stabilised the early part of the innings but could not go on to see them through the last 20 overs.
“I think we recovered really well,” Karunaratne said. “Unfortunately in the middle overs we lost wickets again.”
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From 199 for 4, Sri Lanka lost their next six wickets for 52 runs and finished on 251 all out, to lose by 87 runs.
Karunaratne was impressed with their efforts but wanted his batsmen to show a little more fight in the middle overs, when South Africa’s change bowlers were on and conditions had become easier to bat in.
“They bowled really well (at the start); really good areas,” he added. “At that time, we should respect them and wait for the loose balls. When the ball gets softer, it’s easier to bat, so that’s why we thought we can go for the runs after that, when the ball gets softer.”
Sri Lanka’s innings was made more difficult by the number of runs they had to chase: 339.
After Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis laid South Africa’s foundations, the lower middle-order of Andile Phehlukwayo (35 off 46), Dwaine Pretorius (25 not out off 23) and Chris Morris (26 not out off 13) cashed in on some loose late bowling, and Karunaratne hopes the arrival of Lasith Malinga will allow his attack to tighten up.
“We have Lasith to come. There’s a guy who can bowl very well in the death overs,” Karunaratne said.
“Today, we gave Jeevan (Mendis) and Jeffrey (Vandersay) chances to bowl to the right-handers (at the end). It’s not easy. We have to do some kind of death bowling; we have to think of something different going forward.”
And that’s only half the job. In addition to game plans and strategies, Sri Lanka’s new captain needs to build team unity, which he sees as ever more important on the eve of a long tournament.
“They (the selectors) want me to keep the team together. When you play in a World Cup, it’s not easy. It’s nine matches. You need to keep the team gelling together. That’s what the selectors are expecting from me.”