What’s the feeling in the team like after a slow start?
We just have to realise that it’s a long tournament. A World Cup is five to six weeks and you have to build your campaign. We have been telling the boys to be patient and pace themselves. We’ve been playing good cricket throughout the last year and this year as well. The preparation in New Zealand could have been better, but given the injuries and everything that we had, I thought it was still good.
Having done so well last year, is it a shock to be in a position where you’re not winning matches?
Not winning is a concern. The important thing is to analyse why we’re not winning, and not panic. Fielding is an aspect we need to improve. In the big crucial games, we need to be more aggressive on the field and make sure we grab on to our chances. With the injuries with the bowling, we need to give them a bit of extra time to get into rhythm. Lasith Malinga and Suranga Lakmal are coming back from injury, and Sachithra Senanayake is coming back into the game as well. With the batting there are a few adjustments as well – a few people batting in different positions. It’s a big change from last year, but change is nothing new to the Sri Lankan team.
There’s been a lot of planning for this tournament, but have players lost form as they have arrived at it?
I don’t think people have lost form. Key players have been in and out with injury. Rangana Herath has been bowling really well. Nuwan Kulasekara is there or thereabouts. The part-timers have been doing a job as well. Even in the first game against New Zealand, all three guys who got fifties gave chances. If we had taken those chances, things would have been different. We have to be critical of ourselves there, and be more.
Are you drawing on the memory of the past campaigns where things have gone well?
The good thing about this unit is that the same group of players have been around for a long time. We’ve all seen this in tournaments before – how we start slow. In the World T20 and the previous World Cup it was the same. That said, we need to be calmer in certain situations. Thisara Perera is a vital part of our team, and he still hasn’t come right in New Zealand. We need to get him going at some stage. Angelo Mathews had an injury in the New Zealand series, so he’s just getting back into it. There are a lot of components in this team that just need to gel together. If we get that right, we’ll be fine. Individuals are performing, but we need to make a collective effort in the big games.
No one is rating Sri Lanka highly in this tournament. Do you think you have the quality in the squad to win the tournament?
We definitely have the personnel. No one gives us any chance in any tournament. Even back home, people don’t really rate us that high. We’ve come across that often, we’ve fought hard, and we’ve proven a lot of people wrong. We knew that playing these teams in these conditions was going to be tough. We will have our fair share of defeats – that’s a given. It’s not a tournament that you can completely dominate. But the idea is to win those crucial moments and crucial games and get to a position where we can strike.
What have Sri Lanka learned, strategy wise, in their time in New Zealand so far?
The weather and the pitches have been good, so the scores have been high. In those seven matches, there were at least one or two that we should have turned around. We were trying different things, whether through injury or experimenting. In that sense it was good – we figured out what we can and can’t use.
But tactically, we need to be smarter in these conditions. We will have certain limitations, but within those limitations, we know we can win matches when we play our brand of cricket. We don’t have bowlers who are 6ft 4in, who will get bounce from these tracks, but we have a unit that will create opportunities. We also won a World T20 without power hitters – our only power came from Thisara and Angelo. We go about our game in different
ways to teams like South Africa, Australia or New Zealand. But we have skilful batsmen who will be effective playing their way.
In Sri Lanka, 300-plus scores are quite rare. Does that background make it harder for you when you come to a tournament like this and 300 is talked of as the par score?
We have to realise why 300 is possible here. Some of the venues are very small, and the two new balls make the last 15 overs tough. It’s about getting though that first 30-35 overs with wickets in hand, then you can accelerate. So you have to pick up early wickets and keep taking them through the middle. You saw New Zealand do that against England. I don’t think it’s tough for us to get 300 with our batting. We came close in a couple of matches against New Zealand, but our finish hasn’t been great.
Interview by Andrew Fidel Fernando for Crickinfor