Sri Lanka saw both sides of the spectrum during its recent 13-match winning streak in ODIs. It dismissed the opposition in 14 consecutive matches but its batting collapses were a persistent refrain during this period.
With Wanindu Hasaranga’s injury ruling him out of the World Cup, Sri Lanka will miss its star all-rounder, whose leg-spin was pivotal to the team defending a string of low scores during its unbeaten run in the World Cup Qualifiers. Whether Maheesh Theekshana’s mystery spin and Dunith Wellalage’s recent exploits are enough to take Sri Lanka over the line will depend on the batters, who will be under the scanner on Indian pitches that are likely to be rank turners or flatbeds.
Be it Kusal Perera or Kusal Mendis’ flamboyance at the top or Sadeera Samarickwarama’s composure in the middle, Sri Lanka has the personnel to counter different conditions. Perera, who returned to the ODI fold after more than two years during the Asia Cup, is yet to find consistency but has shown an attacking intent in the first PowerPlay.
In Pathum Nissanka, Sri Lanka’s highest run-scorer in ODIs this year, Perera has an opening partner who can be the perfect foil with his sound technique. During the rough transition since 2015, the island nation has developed the knack of discovering unlikely match-winners and the Asia Cup title in 2022 was testimony to this ability. Though this means Sri Lanka hasn’t identified a match-winning core, its unpredictability could be a potent weapon, as was evident during the Asia Cup Super-Fours where Wellalage stunned India’s top-order and part-time off-spinner Charith Asalanka picked up four wickets.
Asalanka and Dhananjaya de Silva’s all-round skills give Sri Lanka a plethora of bowling options, but the burning concern remains the batting form of captain Dasun Shanaka in the lower order. His woeful returns with the bat reflects in Sri Lanka’s poor showing in the death overs since 2022, which contrasts sharply with its death bowling, led by rising star Matheesha Pathirana.
Sri Lanka’s pace unit, which sees the return of Dilshan Madushanka and Lahiru Kumara from injury, is still without its most experienced member Dushmantha Chameera and lacks teeth.
ACE IN THE PACK
Maheesh Theekshana: Sri Lanka has historically depended on its bowlers, and particularly spinners, to take it deep into tournaments. Muttiah Muralidaran was its highest wicket-taker in 1996, 2007 and 2011. The Lankans will rely on the mystery spin and new-ball skills of Maheesh Theekshana, their top wicket-taker this year, to reprise a similar role.
Despite a precipitous fall since its glory days between 2007 and 2014, Sri Lanka often defies expectations. However, replicating the success of continental tournaments at the global stage could be a bridge too far, and in reaching the semifinals, Sri Lanka will exceed expectations again.