Sri Lanka's attacking brand of cricket is a thing of the past

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India win Cricket World Cup 2011
Kumar Sangkkara looks on as Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh celebrate during their Cricket World Cup 2011 final at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2, 2011. India beat Sri Lanka by six wickets. AFP PHOTO/Indranil MUKHERJEE.

Sri Lanka’s strategy in this World Cup campaign was certainly different. Since 1996, they have been admired for the attacking brand of cricket their batsmen played at the start of the innings and that appears to now have been lost.

Of late, Sri Lanka has not had an opening batsman with a license to score freely, without the burden of personal milestones or consistency.

With the end of Sanath Jayasuriya’s reign at the top of the order, Sri Lanka has relied on Tillakaratne Dilshan to take on that role but much has changed since Jayasuriya’s hayday and today what is required of Dilshan does not allow him the state of mind required to take risks and attack the opposition’s bowlers right from the start.

But Dilshan is no Jayasuriya and neither is Upul Tharanga. To score more than 13,000 runs and earn a reputation in the process as one of the most fearsome strikers of the ball, scoring more than 270 sixers in his career, there is no doubt that the left hander from Matara was special – trying to replicate his successes will be hard.

However, back in the 90s, when Jayasuriya or Romesh Kaluwitharana failed, rarely would statistics be pulled up to prove that they were inconsistent. But over the last decade, the thinking behind our selection process and our strategy has changed, which hasn’t helped our cause very much.

Consistency was not something that was required of our attacking openers; no one expected them to score a half-century when they went out to bat. Their job, instead, was to cash in on the fielding restrictions and take Sri Lanka close to 100 runs in the first 15 overs. What we witnessed during the final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 against India was very unlike the Sri Lanka we have come to know and love.

Upul TharangaAfter the first five overs in Sri Lanka’s innings in the World Cup final, Dilshan and Tharanga could only muster up nine runs. Then, things took a turn for the worst when Sri Lanka found themselves at just 31/1 after 10 overs.

At the 20-over mark, the 1996 champions could only scrape through to 83 runs for the loss of two wickets, which is acceptable in ODIs but not the carnage they are known for. Eventually, both openers had perished without taking many risks or a shot played in anger.

Sri Lanka had to have known that in order to challenge India at home, on smaller grounds and good batting tracks, they required in access of 300. While the total of 274/6 was competitive, a negative mindset when fielding made India’s life a lot easier in a crucial run-chase.

After Lasith Malinga provided Sri Lanka with the early breakthroughs, it was disheartening to see captain Kumar Sangakkara take the approach that he did. India’s batsmen were provided with gaps in the field, which they utilised to rotate the strike and build partnerships, thanks to the defensive attitude of the Sri Lankan captain.

Sangakkara turned to the likes of Dilshan instead of his main strike bowlers, perhaps in hopes of getting through a few overs cheaply, when what was required was more wickets.

When Yuvraj Singh walked in, although a lone slip was present, the fact that there was a long-off in place, instead of a mid-off, gave Singh the opportunity to get off strike.

It is easy to be critical after the fact but this is not a new problem. Sri Lanka have always preferred to pace out their game, saving their strike bowlers for end of the run chase, rather than use them as wicket-taking options.

In contrast, sides like Australia will set attacking fields and bring on their best bowlers, when an opening in the batting line up is created. Given the slightest of chances, the Aussies will seize the opportunity to change the game and not hope that the game goes down to the wire. After all, wickets do win matches and bowling economically, saving boundaries just prolongs the inevitable.

What is disappointing is that Sangakkara in his first World Cup as captain will not have another opportunity to taste World Cup glory. He, along with several others in the current World Cup squad, is in his mid-30s and the 2011 World Cup is likely his last.

Kumar SangakkaraBut Sangakkara now has the opportunity to put things right for the benefit of future generations. As captain of the Sri Lankan side, he can bring about the changes required to make Sri Lanka a force to reckon with come 2015.

For starters, an honest view of what the players require from Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) officials and selectors, including criticism of their actions, maybe required in order to set things in motion. But that calls for blunt criticism, void of the diplomatic approach that he is known for, and unlike the times of Arjuna Ranatunga, where country - not career - mattered, it is unrealistic to expect such today.

In preparation for the next edition of the World Cup, Sri Lanka needs a strong captain who knows what he needs and gets what he wants. One of the responsibilities of the current captain is to groom Sri Lanka’s next captain.

Seniors in the Sri Lankan camp have always aided the captain with the decision making, which makes the position of vice-captain in the team a ceremonial one – an ideal platform to groom a future captain.

The opportunity, however, has been thrown away by handing the Sri Lankan vice-captaincy to the former captain Mahela Jayawardene, instead of picking a promising youngster early and persevering with the decision.

With another chance of winnings the World Cup gone, its time for a reality check.

The advent of powerplays and Twenty20 cricket has seen teams take their scoring rate to another level but the pioneers of the strategy to clobber the new ball to all parts in the first-15 appear to be going back in time.

During the tournament, Sri Lanka showed reluctance to take risks in the first 15 overs (powerplay 1 and 2) and have opted instead to preserve their wickets for a final onslaught during their batting power-play (powerplay 3 – 5 overs).

Instead of seeing more scoring opportunities, Sri Lanka views powerplay 3 and the final 10 overs as the time to accelerate their scoring rate, which meant that their best batsmen have not been looking to attack against the new ball, or put pressure on the opposition early – a strategy which now appears to have cost them a World Cup.


Sulaimaan's picture
Member since:
3 December 2010
Last activity:
2 years 12 weeks

You are missing a point, the 96 SL team had a far better lineup than the present one(Arjuna,Mahanama,Hashan), that is what gave those openers the license to play aggressively while there is a lot to be worried about our present middle order, you cannot expect our present openers to play such cricket.
But what we need is one of them attacking, which they did very well right through the tournament,except the final.

Hilal's picture
Member since:
20 November 2008
Last activity:
44 min 36 sec

As much as I hate to admit it, I think you are right. I thought that we lost the match when batting in P1 and P2 (overs 1 through 15). No way can you get away with that kind of batting these days.

But having said that, we had enough runs to win. We bowled poorly and like you say the field placings were not that great either.

Dimithrak's picture
Member since:
2 January 2009
Last activity:
1 year 2 weeks

Couldnt agree with you more. We need a new leader!

Navin De Alwis's picture

i think the writer needs to understand the batting line up we had in 1996 was much more consistent so hence we were able to play the attacking brand of cricket without much fuss quite consistently at the top. we had the likes of Gura at Number 3, Ara at number 4, ranatunga at number 5, Mahanama at number 6 , hashan at number 7, kumar at number 8 and vassy at number 9. compare that with sanga at number 3, mahela at number 4, chamara S/K at number 5, samaraweera at number 6, matthews/thisara at number 7 and kula at number 8 . so its unfair on the part of the writer to compare the current line up with the 96 batting line up .the added pressure on Tharanga and Dilly is much more because of this hence the risk they take have to be far more calculated. hope the writer understands this as its easier to criticize but its quite hard to put to practice when you have a less than average couple of players playing in the vital number 5 and number 6 positions.

Anonymous's picture

I agree with Mr. Hilal, totally!!!, but one should think… was there something more than cricket, or just bad decisions made by the team / cricket board…..???

News from India (inside fan source)… were putting down big money on the visitors at one point, even up to the fall of India’s 1st wicket at such an early stage. Again; bad decisions or something more than the game of cricket?

I believe some of the players (SL team) were not very happy with the decisions made to the team during the last moments; there body language spoke out at times during the final. Personally, I believe there was much more going on with the lions then what meets the eye and how the game was taken on.

Well better luck next time LIONS…..

Anonymous's picture

You can not play attacking cricket unless you have match winning players. In the past we had players like Aravinda, Sanath, Arjuna, Vaas and Marvan.
In this team we have only Dilshan, Sangakkara and Malinga. Unfortunately for us none of them performed up to the expectations.
Blame should go to the selectos. First axing two match winners just before a World Cup, without proper replacements. Second, not giving young players adiquate exposure. To this end some of the so called seniors should be responsible. They were just affraid to go down the batting order, lest they should loose their places in the side.

Marcian's picture
Member since:
8 December 2010
Last activity:
36 weeks 16 hours

I agree with Sulaiman and Navin De Alwis! You cant expect our openers - Tharanga and Dilshan - to go berserk from the start when we have such a brittle middle order.

Thats Hara-kiri, Ryan!

Cricket Fan's picture

In my job if I do a critical mistake I will be sacked… I don't have dozens of coaches to guide me or correct my mistakes… in most professions it is the same… there are even professions where we cannot afford to do a single mistake… a pilot needs to fly with zero errors… a soldier can't afford to do any mistake in an enemy territory… but our cricketers can do mistakes after another and another… missing catches, stumpings, run outs etc. etc. yet no penalties… record books are written for the wickets or catches you took... but not for the ones you miss... what ever happens our cricketers will still be our heros.. they will recommend us what to eat, what to wear, what to buy… pretty much anything… anyway, irrespective of any mistakes done, the world cup is over now… fans will talk about this loss for long time… but most of our beloved cricketers will possibly recover from this situation soon and tell us again what to buy…. this time possibly a product that can help us cure our frustration....

Anonymous's picture

our players have already recovered and they r on their way to the IPL!

ThilinaC's picture

It is time to start grooming the next captain,I just hope from England tour vice captaincy will be given to Angelo.

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