For many fans watching on, let alone the players, the manner of Sri Lanka’s defeat in the second ODI was particularly tough to take. Amid one of the worst streaks in the country’s cricketing history, the opportunity to get one over an old enemy – even if their first choice XI was halfway across the world – would have been as good a salve as any. But, Deepak Chahar had other ideas.
So, it’s now down to Dasun Shanaka – Sri Lanka’s 10th captain in four years – to rally his troops, go again and avoid a whitewash. While the Super League points up for grabs will no doubt be a motivating factor, it’s clear what this Sri Lankan team needs right now is simply a win.
“If we had won that last game, it would have been a big boost going into this game,” Shanaka said. “But I have a lot of belief that this young team can start winning soon.
“If you look, even from the England series, the team has been improving little by little. Today our bowlers had a good practice session focusing on their spot bowling, something which is important in a match. Every time we’re out in the field we’re looking at improving. Of course, we can fall back down once in a while, but we need to keep faith in the process. The goal is to end this match on a high note.”
Much of the criticism that spilled over from the last game centered around Shanaka’s handling of his bowlers at the death. While using the excellent pair of Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga in the final few overs was understandable, the decision to bring on both Kasun Rajitha and Lakshan Sandakan in the overs that preceded them was more contentious.
Both Rajitha and Sandakan went for more than seven runs per over, but Shanaka said it was a decision that was easier to criticise in hindsight.
“We can’t always say with certainty what would have happened. There are two ways to look at it; if Dasun Shanaka and Chamika Karunaratne had bowled and got hit, many would have said that there would have been overs left over from Kasun Rajitha and Lakshan Sandakan. It was Sandakan, after all, that got the crucial wicket of Suryakumar (Yadav).
“We can’t always know which way would have been best. As a captain my main goal is to win, at the time I did what I thought was best but going forward I’ll need to learn from these experiences.”
In terms of positives for Sri Lanka, the performances of Charith Asalanka and Karunaratne have been right up there. Karunaratne’s late-order hitting has been crucial in Sri Lanka setting respectable targets in both games so far, while Asalanka has proven to be a steadying middle-order presence. Unsurprisingly, the unreliable nature of Sri Lanka’s top order combined with both players’ form has led to calls for them to be promoted, something Shanaka was hesitant to sign off on.
“We need to fix the playing environment first. When Asalanka was batting at No. 3 in England, a lot of people might have been saying he wasn’t of international standard. As a captain, the way I looked at it was, how do we get the best out of him? I spoke to coaches and selectors, and we decided that he should first play at No. 5, where he can first gain experience playing in the middle order. Then gradually put him into that No. 3 role. We need to give players time to settle in. That will give him time to learn about international cricket, how to play certain bowlers, when to accelerate an innings, when to stretch things out, he will gradually get a better understanding of these things.
“Just like Asalanka, Chamika has been playing really well. But Chamika also needs time to settle in. He has shown he can finish, so we need to give him more time in that role. That’s how you build his confidence. So that’s why both are in their specific positions, to gain that crucial experience.”
Much of Sri Lanka’s success also depends on the continued fitness of Chameera, whose pace has caused problems for many an opposition batter. That means successfully implementing a rest and rotation policy. Chameera, however, has been playing non-stop since the start of the year and, seeing how crucial he is to the side, a rest seems unlikely. A logical replacement would be Lahiru Kumara, but he’s just coming back from injury himself.
“We do have a problem in being able to replace some players,” Shanaka said. ‘In the past, we’ve lost a lot of in-form players due to injuries, to the detriment of our side. So now we need to manage our fast bowlers a lot more carefully. We have about three fast bowlers who can bowl over 140kph, but if we can nurture a few more to that level it’ll make things easier in terms of rotation.
“Having a player like Lahiru Kumara is very much an advantage, but we need to manage his bowling load, and with him coming back from injury, we need to get him match fit properly without rushing him back. As a captain, I would of course like to have both Dushmantha and Kumara, but we need to manage the bowling loads properly.
“Going forward, we will hopefully have more players coming through from the Under-19 and A team levels, and at that point, we should be able to properly implement a rest and rotation policy. It’s honestly a good thing because if you look at someone like Dushmantha he’s been in a bubble for three months straight.”