Sri Lanka has scored on the rebuilding front where skipper Angelo Mathews and the national selectors can take heart from the discovery of potential new talent for the future in ODI cricket. There is still the strongpoint for Sri Lanka of having beaten England squarely in the English’s own den only 2 years ago. That euphoric 3-2 result was steeling satisfaction to the islanders in an year when England got the blues having also been beaten in the Test series. That 2 years hence it is the same man in Angelo Mathews who wore the captaincy mantle does carry a significant poignancy for Sri Lanka for the future. That is in a rebuilding curve having lost some of its steadfast veterans on the way.
The bottom line of this Sri Lankan build up voyage in re-seeking the great image it once enjoyed with the island nation’s world cup winning saga of 1996 is that it was Mathews who was instrumental in knocking the stuff lings out of the English. That was when Sri Lanka thrashed England 3-2 at home ahead of the 2015 world cup when again Mathews’ men drubbed England by 9 wickets at Wellington. That Mathews has rubbed this salt into the English in his post-2016 series comments by stating that ‘a few years back they were in the same situation as us, a rebuilding phase and they have stuck to their plans, they’ve stuck to their players and now you can see the results,’ is poignant.
Clearly, the difference between the two sides then and now was the decisive factor of experience and professionalism. While Mathews remains the tried and trusted leader in the Sri Lankan camp, the erosion of professional match winners by causes of retirement of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara and injury to the 2014 hero Dhammika Prasad had its toll. In such a scenario that the 2016 ODI exchanges provided some new hopefuls in the form of young batsmen Kusal Mendis, Dhanushka Gunatilleke, Dasun Shanaka and Chaminda Bandara among a few others is a definite positive factor for the Sri Lankan cricket authorities. Sri Lanka did have its momentary highs of having England on the hop at 80 for 6 wickets in the tied inaugural ODI at Trent Bridge. It was a series that saw England take the initiative from the second game in a 10-wicket stroll winning the fourth and fifth games in a canter posting 300-plus totals after the third match was rain abandoned. That was after Sri Lanka made 248 for 9 when the rains came down at Bristol.
The individual high points bordered on vice Captain Dinesh Chandimal’s four half centuries in carrying the brunt of the Sri Lankan batting. If Chandimal’s form was reassuring to the Sri Lankan camp in the rediscovery of form that had been an eluding factor not so long ago, 21-year old Kusal Mendis proved to be a new found chunk of gold. That he made the highly unfavorably harsh cold English summer climes the ground to signal his arrival was significant. Dasun Shanaka was another all-round find. Having made an explosive century arrival in a 3-day warm up game, Shanaka, batting at No.7 had mediocre 20-odd scores running himself out twice in successive games. When Sri Lanka went past 300 in the fourth game Shanaka was unbeaten on 17 with skipper Mathews at the other end. A right arm medium fast bowler, the product from Negombo representing SSC, did put on the table the ingredients that should hold forth in Sri Lanka’s rebuilding voyage. Here was a youngster who answered the call to come good with two typically classic half centuries 53 in the second game and 77 in the fourth at the Kennington Oval. Still significantly, it was the classic mannerism in which he got to those scores that augured well for the future.
The other bright spark was young left hand opening batsman Dhanushka Gunatilleke whose 62 and 42 in successive outings in the fourth and fifth ODIs also served as a future yardstick for the selectors. The 6ft 1 inch tall 25-year old hailing from Panadura who came out of Mahanama College, Colombo, who filled in for regular opener Tillekeratne Diulshan who opted out for personal reasons, also contributed with the ball. He had the impressive figures of 3 for 48 as second change bowler in the final game. The frontline England wickets included England captain Morgan for 22 and the high scoring Johnny Bairstow for 22. The right arm Chaminda Bandara, a late entry who was an injury factored reinforcement on tour also showed the depth of lively pace when finally given an opportunity in the final ODI. He accounted for the wicket of Butler who made 70 and though a mite expensive conceding 83 in his 10 overs could be looked upon as the fodder on which to build the next champion ODI outfit Sri Lanka has focused on. England have reversed ICC standings by the 2016 outcome having replaced Sri Lanka at No.5 with the former at No.6.
By Srian Obeyesekere
-The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sri Lanka Cricket-