Beginning his World Cup on the back of a difficult few weeks in New Zealand, Sri Lanka captainAngelo Mathews was characteristically non-committal on the likely combination to appear in the tournament opener.
Sri Lanka’s team selection has drawn significant criticism from former players at home. The omission of Upul Tharanga from the World Cup squad raised eyebrows, while the inclusion of a legspinning allrounder Jeevan Mendis was recently questioned by Muttiah Muralitharan. The team has largely fielded only three frontline bowlers in their time in New Zealand, choosing to make up the remaining overs between the allrounders, of which there may be as many as four in the team. Mathews himself and Thisara Perera routinely deliver a few overs of seam, while Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mendis share part of the slow-bowling burden.
“We’ve talked about playing more specialists,” Mathews said. “Sometimes you need the depth in the batting and bowling so that’s why we’ve played our allrounders. Depending on the wicket or depending on the opposition, you sometimes have to play seven batters and four specialist bowlers, so we will tweak that according to the situation.”
Muralitharan was among those suggesting Sri Lanka ought to place a premium on quality bowlers, particularly with the new rules allowing only four men outside the circle in play on smaller New Zealand venues. Mathews, however, felt it was Sri Lanka’s execution that brought poor results in the ODI series, not their strategy.
“We don’t need to make too many changes; it’s the approach that we’ve got to bring into it,” he said. “When you lose a few games you tend to be a bit more down and you have to fight hard. It’s going to be a fresh series for us.”
Sri Lanka’s death bowling was exposed in that series, but they were missing the services of Lasith Malinga, who Mathews confirmed was fit to play on Saturday. Mathews himself had also been out with injury and illness for three of the six completed matches. In his absence, Sri Lanka’s own finishing appeared lacklustre. They had launched a fine total in the final ODI in Wellington without him, but that was largely thanks to the efforts of the top order, and Kumar Sangakkara’s unbeaten ton in particular. In the past week, Sri Lanka have also lost both their World Cup warm up games.
“Our late middle order haven’t produced good results for us in the recent past,” Mathews said. “We found a way to lose matches against New Zealand, instead of winning them. We had a couple of bad practice matches as well but we’re not too concerned because we gave guys the opportunities and we were trying out a few things.”
Sri Lanka is the most experienced outfit in the tournament however, and their squad has 10 players from the team that triumphed in last year’s World T20. They have also arguably been the most consistent big-tournament team since 2007, making five ICC finals and two semi finals in that time.
“The spinners have to do a holding role here in these conditions and the fast bowlers have to try and attack,” Mathews said. “We’ve got the firepower to do that, we just have to click as a group. We’ve got a fairly experienced team and they all put their thoughts on the table about how we’ve got to the final in the past, but we’re not looking too far ahead.”