Coming into this World Cup, Sri Lanka had won just one of their nine ODIs in 2019 and were underdogs in a tournament where they were finalists in 2011. The main issue for Sri Lanka was their batting. Their batting average as a team in 2019 was a shoddy 23.68, the worst for any team in this time frame. Only two batsmen had scored hundreds - Kusal Perera and Thisara Perera - and only one - Kusal Mendis - had over 300 runs.
There was one batsman though who gave them hope and looked a class apart - Avishka Fernando - a talented ball striker who was quickly disposed after a duck on his debut in 2016. By March 2019, Fernando was back in the Sri Lanka ODI side and he made his chances count.
Six matches into the World Cup, Fernando is Sri Lanka's third highest run scorer behind Kusal Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne. The difference is that Fernando has played just half the number of matches in this tournament as the other two. He struck the only hundred by a Lankan in the tournament when he slammed 104 in 103 balls at Chester-le-Street on Monday, the 1st of July against the West Indies.
Walking in at 93/1, Fernando carried on Sri Lanka's advantage by keeping with the scoring rate. His timing was impeccable throughout and the Lankan number 3 hit nine fours and two sixes in his knock. From 6.11, the scoring rate elevated to 6.65 by the time he departed. Importantly, he ensured he would carry on after a start, something Sri Lankan batsmen haven't done in this World Cup so far.
The exciting talent has racked up scores of 49, 30 and 104 in this World Cup against England, South Africa and West Indies respectively. All his three knocks have come at a strike rate greater than 100. His overall strike rate of 107.01 is the best by any number 3 batsman with 100 runs in this World Cup. No other number 3 batsman has scored at over a run a ball. To add to that, Fernando has averaged a more than healthy 61 after three games.
Since his return to the limited-overs side in 2019, Fernando has been in good touch in the format. He has the second most runs after Kusal Mendis in ODIs since his comeback for Sri Lanka and importantly is among one of three batsmen to average over 40 in this time frame. Alongside Kusal Perera, he is also the only one to strike at a rate greater than 100.
What stands out for Sri Lanka is that Fernando is just 21 years of age. He has a rich history with World Cups too having hit a 95 from 96 balls in Sri Lanka's victory against England in the 2016 under-19 World Cup. He made his ODI debut soon after that at the age of 18 but was out for a duck on debut. When he returned this year just before the World Cup, Fernando pushed his case for a place in the playing XI with a maiden ODI half-century against Scotland.
While he only made 49 in his first World Cup appearance against England, Fernando gave a good account of himself by hitting Jofra Archer for 24 runs in 15 balls. In a low scoring game which Sri Lanka eventually won, Fernando's excellent 39-ball 49 stood out. The hundred against West Indies further shows that Fernando is one prospect Sri Lanka needs to stick with and nurture in the years to come.