Monday, March 9, 2015

Don't underestimate Sri Lanka.

Yes, they lost to Australia, last night. Yes, they lost by sixty-four runs. Which on the face of it sounds comprehensive. But any team would struggle to rein in a total of three hundred and seventy-six. Bat first and win a match.

Today's one dayer's are tailor made for batsmen batting first. Flat pitches, power plays, bigger bats, the opportunity to bat without the pressure of chasing, you name it, they've got it. The flick of a coin effectively decides eighty per cent of matches.

And yet, with all this against them, Sri Lanka gave this chase as good a shake as any could or would have. In reality, these are two evenly matched sides. There were mitigating factors, too, in Sri Lanka's favour. Kumar Sangakkara was given out caught. That was fine until the review showed him to be the victim of a no-ball. At least most of us could see no part of James Faulkner's foot behind the popping crease. Apparently the bowler gets the benefit of the doubt. Bizarre.

And then, just when Dinesh Chandimal was blasting away at a strike rate of well over two hundred, his gluteus maximus gets notions of seizing up. It seems maximus successfully separated gluteus from victory. For, if Chandimal had been able to stick around, this contest could have been oh so different.

Sure, could've, would've, should've. So many variables.

What it does do though is shine some light on the chances of Sri Lanka going forward. Only two months ago Sri Lanka were being written off, having suffered a thumping series loss to New Zealand. The World Cup was not two months ago. It is in the now. And Sri Lanka appear to be peaking nicely.

They are served well by any number of World class batsmen such as Kumar Sankakara, Tillikaratne Dilshan and Mahele Jayewardene. They have a middle order that can score rapidly in the form of Angelo Matthews and Chandimal. They handle world class attacks as well, if not better, than any other. And they'll have to.

For the likes of Australia have a superior set of leather lovers to fling ferocious missiles from awkward angles and heights each and every delivery.

The Sri Lankan bowling attack may not be as strong as Australia or South Africa's, but they do have Lasith Malinga and Rangana Herath. One of the best one day bowlers in Malinga, whether it be at the beginning of an inning or at the death, he is potent. In fact, if anyone in the World deserves the moniker of doctor death, it is Malinga.

No one in the game can deliver an in-swinging yorker with the express aim of crushing a batsman's aspirations better than Malinga. No one can deliver a slower ball better than Malinga. His ten over's are worth the price of any two bowlers in the game.

Herath is a spinner of class. Out injured with a hand injury at this moment, if he recovers in time for the quarter-finals, an essential element will have been added to Sri Lanka's ability to cook up a storm.

Their likely quarterfinal opponent is South Africa. A team not known for handling pressure well, a choke, for them, is always a possibility. Loaded with talent South Africa may be, but nevertheless, they have already lost to India and Pakistan in this World Cup. Confidence cannot be on a highveld at present.

If Sri Lanka win that, a semi-final against New Zealand, at Eden Park, beckons. And, outside of Kane Williamson, New Zealand's batsmen should not be trusted to perform under pressure and even more so the scrutiny of Malinga, a bowler they are notoriously fragile against.

Don't be surprised to see a final between Sri Lanka and India, two teams not mentioned at the start of this World Cup as potential winners.

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