Sri Lanka’s unexpected success at the 1996 tournament led to a golden generation when it produced some of the world’s best cricketers. Sadly, the side was not able to sufficiently replace the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene when they retired, and the team has been on the slide for the last five years.
The 2019 Sri Lankan World Cup squad is among the outsiders for this year’s event but can they cause an upset, just as they did so memorably 23 years ago?
Down the Field
The sportsbooks are offering little hope for anyone looking to back the Sri Lankans this summer. The team is way down the outright markets at odds of +6600 and only Afghanistan is behind them.
That’s likely to be a fair assessment and while the squad features some effective one day cricketers, it’s tough to predict a positive outcome at this year’s World Cup. Teams have, however, come from higher odds to win the tournament so let’s take a look at the players who are hoping to prove us wrong.
If there is a strong area within this squad, it lies with the bowling unit. At the recent IPL, Lasith Malinga proved that at 35, he can still be a force, particularly in the death overs. Sri Lanka will also travel with some seamers who have experience of playing in England and can be effective if the overhead conditions are in their favor.
Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep will offer good support to Malinga while the quicks are backed in the spin department by Jeevan Mendis and Jeffrey Vandersay. The attack doesn’t exactly have youth on its side — all of those players are over 29 — but there is a good balance and lots of experience in this bowling unit.
Those outside of Sri Lanka were surprised that Niroshan Dickwella was left out of the squad. We won’t miss his constant, frivolous appealing from behind the stumps but surely the team will miss his explosive batting. There are some capable accumulators and some dangerous power hitters in this team but surely they would be more effective with Dickwella included.
The pressure is now on the injury-prone Angelo Mathews, plus Thisara Perera, to provide the fireworks while others look to bat long and deep. It’s not the best batting unit at the tournament and this is where Sri Lanka is likely to struggle throughout the competition.
It’s been tough to pick a key player from this squad. Sri Lanka does not have a batsman inside the top 30 ODI rankings and that tends to back up our theory that batting is a weakness. The one player inside the top 10 in any section is Angelo Mathews, who is ranked at No. 9 on the all rounders list.
That’s a significant achievement when you consider that Mathews, while he is still only 31, has suffered from injuries that have restricted his bowling in the recent past. As for his ODI numbers, the former Sri Lankan captain has over 5,000 runs in this format at a very healthy batting average of 42.36. He’s less impressive with the ball, claiming 114 wickets, but Mathews has an impressive best of 6/20.
If Sri Lanka is going to upset those odds, Mathews will be instrumental with fast scoring and, if he is capable, some useful wicket-taking overs.
It’s tough to be positive about a Sri Lankan side that is currently ninth in the ODI rankings. Had the qualifying cut-off point fallen any later, then the team would have entered pre-qualifying and there would be no guarantees that they’d progress to the tournament itself.
The new format of the 2019 World Cup is also working against the 1996 champions. Without the safety net of a second group stage, there is less room for a surprise outcome and only the best four teams across those initial groups should make it through to the semifinals.
In terms of individual markets, there is little support from the sportsbooks as you might expect. In the tournament top batsman betting, the first mention goes to Kusal Mendis and he is way down at odds of +10000. It’s a similar story in the bowling department where Lasith Malinga is at that same price of +10000 to be the leading wicket taker.
We think those assessments, together with that ODI ranking, have summed it all up. Sri Lanka faces a battle to avoid finishing bottom in this tournament and, as far as progression to the knockouts is concerned, they need to forget about the semifinals. It’s all about moving on from the older players and rebuilding for 2023.
Prediction: Group Stages
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ICC World Cup News
Odds Shark Staff Thu, Feb 17, 9:14amICC World Cup