Sri Lanka may have lost the T20 series in India 1-2. But, that doesn’t make them any less a threat as the Asia Cup begins. This is one tournament they love winning, although this is the first time the event will be held in the shortest version of the sport. One of the reasons Sri Lanka struggled in India was because most of their experienced men, barring Tillakaratne Dilshan, were missing from that short three-game series. They are back now, and the positive development will give Sri Lanka the confidence that they can turn the corner in the Asia Cup and, even more significantly, the World T20 to follow, in India.
The biggest of the good news is that their skipper Lasith Malinga is back in charge of things. Most teams depend on batsmen to win them games in T20s. But, Sri Lanka’s skills are slightly different in this aspect. Malinga is undoubtedly their biggest match winner in the format. It was he who was instrumental in tying India down in the 2014 World T20 final, which the Lankans eventually went on to win. The performance of the slinger will again be crucial to Sri Lanka’s fortunes. Malinga has had a few poor games in recent times, so the Asia Cup also gives him an opportunity to prove a point.
Spin has been Sri Lanka’s strength in the shorter formats over the years, and Ajantha Mendis has been one of their most successful bowlers in the T20 version. Thus, it is surprising that he has been omitted although it is a fact that he hasn’t lived up to the reputation he once developed as a mystery spinner. But, with the kind of record he possesses in T20s, Sri Lankan selectors would have been tempted to give him another chance. In his absence, there will be greater pressure on veteran Rangana Herath to support Malinga. In Nuwan Kulasekara, they have another experienced pace hand while Dushmantha Chameera and Dasun Shanaka are beginning to make a mark.
While their bowling is in decent shape, Sri Lanka’s batting seems thin on paper. They will be heavily dependent on Tillakaratne Dishan to come good. The old warhorse did not have a memorable series in India, and will be keen to make amends. If his batting comes off at the top of the order, Sri Lanka’s woes will be alleviated to an extent. But, the hunt for an opening partner to Dilshan will continue. Danushka Gunathilaka has been dumped after constant failures. So Niroshan Dickwella gets another chance to make up for that disastrous shot be played in the final T20 in India.
The presence of Test captain Angelo Mathews provides some much needed balance to the side, as he can win games with both bat and ball, apart from being an excellent fielder. But, Dinesh Chandimal, who captained Lanka in India, will have a lot to prove, as he hasn’t quite woken up to the challenge of the T20 format. In Milinda Siriwardana though they have an all-rounder who has proved he has a mature head on his shoulders while Thisara Perera is coming off a hat-trick in India. Perhaps, things are not that bad. The Lankans just need to pull talents together.
--By A Cricket Analyst