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ICC World Cup 2019 | Struggling Sri Lanka Hope For a Miraculous Turnaround

Karthik Lakshmanan |May 24, 2019, 7:07 PM IST
ICC World Cup 2019 | Struggling Sri Lanka Hope For a Miraculous Turnaround

These are not the best of times for Sri Lanka. And we're not just talking about their cricket.

The island has not been the beautiful paradise it is ever since it was struck by terrorism on Easter Sunday. The country is desperately in need of a unifying factor. What better way than cricket? What better way than cheer together for the World Cup?

That's perhaps the best motivating factor the team could ask for too, for they have had their own share of problems over the last few years.

The bare numbers, first.

Since the end of World Cup 2015 - when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene retired - they've won only 24 of their 85 ODIs, losing 55. Since the start of 2018, they've won only seven of their 26 matches. They've been whitewashed in their two most recent series; 3-0 in New Zealand and 5-0 in South Africa. Sri Lanka have won only one ODI this year - against Scotland on Tuesday (May 21). Prior to that, they lost 1-4 at home to England, and failed to beat even Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the Asia Cup, bowing out in the group stage.

Sri Lanka have tried plenty of things, but literally nothing has worked. Since the start 2017, they've had six captains in the format: Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Thisara Perera, Upul Tharanga, Chamara Kapugedera and Lasith Malinga. Only three of them feature in the World Cup squad.

captains

The most recent one, Malinga even reportedly threatened to retire if he wasn't made the captain for the tournament.

As it turned out, Malinga won't be the captain at the World Cup. Instead, Sri Lanka have gone to someone who hadn't played an ODI from the World Cup 2015 until the game against Scotland - Dimuth Karunaratne. That's how desperate and unstable their one-day cricket is at the moment.

Add to all this charges of corruption on various ex-players, and you've got a country in cricketing turmoil. It reflects in their ICC rankings - ninth in ODIs, sixth in Tests and eighth in T20Is.

Until a few years ago, it could be said that Sri Lanka is a side that always lifts itself in ICC events. However, even that's not true in recent years. Sri Lanka have struggled to compete in the last three ICC events; they made a quarter-final exit in World Cup 2015, and failed to even make the knockouts in the World T20 2016 and Champions Trophy 2017. Unless something changes drastically, that's unlikely to change this World Cup too.

Sri Lanka's selectors have chosen stability over dynamism for the World Cup. Still, it's hard to understand why they've dropped someone like Niroshan Dickwella - he has three half-centuries from his last eight games, and is the kind of player who can help them post 300+ totals that are the need of the hour in England. Sri Lanka have scored more than 300 only thrice since the start of 2018. Dickwella has scores of 34, 76 and 95 in those games.

(AP Photo) (AP Photo)

Their uncertainty starts right at the top. One of their openers, Avishka Fernando has only five ODIs to his name.

Captain Karunaratne didn't played an ODI in for years. Until the Scotland game, Lahiru Thirimanne hadn't played an ODI since the end of 2017. Much will depend on Angelo Mathews, as is always the case. Can he remain fit throughout?

But it's also an opportunity for the likes of Kusal Mendis and Kusal Perera, to convert promise to performances.

The biggest name in the bowling unit is Malinga, whose last delivery in professional cricket won Mumbai Indians the IPL title. The Sri Lankan captaincy snub has not gone too well with him, but it's imperative that he puts all that behind.

It's a sad state of affairs, but Sri Lanka have only a side that can trouble teams occasionally. In a World Cup format that calls for consistency, they could be found wanting. It's hard to even call Sri Lanka underdogs - it would truly be a surprise if they go far in the tournament.

But who knows how things can change? Under the same captain, Sri Lanka stunned everyone by sweeping South Africa 2-0 in South Africa earlier this year. A similar performance in the World Cup is precisely what a grief-struck country needs.

Squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (Captain), Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga, Kusal Perera, Lahiru Thirimanne, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Jefferey Vandersay, Thisara Perera, Isuru Udana, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Jeewan Mendis and Milinda Siriwardana​.

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2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
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1 England 6745 125
2 India 6939 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
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