MUTTIAH MURALIDARAN: Batting quality means there’s still plenty to be positive about

After conceding a mountain of runs, the batsmen once again showed their quality, and for 40 overs Angelo Mathews’ men really kept the opposition on their toes.

And in Kumar SangakkaraSri Lanka have the number one one-day batsman in the world at the moment.

You can talk all you like about Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers or Glenn Maxwell – and all of them have played superbly in this tournament – but Sanga is the man all other sides will fear most of all.

His feat of scoring three World Cup hundreds in a row is incredible and his ability to score at better than a run a ball without appearing to take risks is exceptional.

He knows his game inside-out and back-to-front and as this is his last World Cup he looks like a man on a mission. He is showing himself to be the complete player in every sense.

And with the other players in the top-order feeding off him and firing too, Sri Lanka is a side that looks capable of causing plenty of opposition bowlers’ headaches over the remaining matches.

Unfortunately, the downside of the display against Australia was a repeat of the two issues that have dogged the team through the tournament so far – bowling frailties and injuries.

The problem with the bowlers is simple: beyond Lasith Malinga, who is slowly but surely getting back to somewhere near his best, Sri Lanka does not have any high-quality operators, especially with Rangana Herath on the sidelines as he recovers from an injury to his spinning finger.

On that basis, and with the confidence of the batsmen sky-high, it again cried out for the selection of an extra specialist bowler but, as yet, it is a cry that is falling on deaf ears.

After all, no matter how well the batsmen are playing, it is asking too much of them to need to score in excess of 300 every time in order to win or keep the side in the match.

It was asking a lot of Seekkuge Prasanna to come in and excel after joining the squad late while Sachithra Senanayake, fine bowler though he has been, does not look to have the same threat he was before he had to remodel his action.

The lack of quality in the attack is forcing Angelo Mathews to rely on himself as a frontline bowler, something we were always loath to do when I played. We knew that, with his injury history, if we forced him to bowl 10 overs match after match then he would break down.

On that basis we looked to use him for five or six overs at most with just the occasional full ration of 10 overs. But he had to bowl those 10 overs against England and another seven against Australia and I saw worrying signs as a result. If he is sidelined with the ball in the upcoming matches then that would be a major headache for the side.

The latest injury, to Dinesh Chandimal, could not have been timed any worse in two senses – one for the fact he was playing supremely well in Sydney and two for his tournament as a whole.

That innings against Australia was a reminder of him at his best – something we have seen all-too-rarely over the past couple of years.

But Sri Lanka have to be ruthless when it comes to this sort of thing and if Chandimal is not going to be fully fit for the quarter-final then the team needs to get in a replacement.

It is no good carrying players into the latter stages of tournaments hoping they are going to be fit.

The team had that problem in the last World Cup in 2011 when Mathews himself broke down and that upset the balance of the side and the planning for the final against India. Management should be mindful of that and learn the lesson.

For now, it is time to focus on the final group match, against Scotland, a match that on paper looks very straightforward.

It should be, too, but for Sri Lanka it can serve a very important role in allowing the team to be absolutely ready for the quarter-final, which now looks likely to be against South Africa in Sydney given Sri Lanka now looks set to finish third in the pool.

The Scotland match will give the bowlers especially a chance to improve their disciplines and the team as a whole to look at the correct combination going forward – which, in my mind, must be six batsmen – including Mathews – an all-rounder and four specialist bowlers.

Sri Lanka needs that many bowlers, plus Mathews if he is fit, Thisara Perera and Tillakaratne Dilshan, to be able to cope with the pressure the side is likely to come under from opposition in that quarter-final.
If it is to be South Africa then that is a tough match to call. On the one hand, when AB de Villiers’ side is firing they are a match for any line-up in the world.
But if they are off their game then they are beatable, as Pakistan and, earlier in the tournament India, have shown.

And they have the weight of history on their shoulders, having never won the World Cup, something that does not sit so heavily on Sri Lanka’s shoulders after the win in 1996 and, in another format, success in the ICC World Twenty20 last year.

Like Sri Lanka, South Africa are struggling for balance in their line-up and really had a problem with their fifth bowler against Pakistan in Auckland.

And with Sri Lanka’s batting confidence at the moment, that would be something the side could exploit.

The fact Sri Lanka is also due back in Sydney will be a further boost for the side. It is a ground the players enjoy and the crowd for the Australia match was terrific in their support for Mathews and his players.

I do expect a fresh pitch – unlike the one used for the match against Australia, which had been used previously – and that is something the South Africans would be happy about given their players historically struggle on slow, tired pitches especially when the pace is taken off the ball.

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  • Ranil Fernando

    7 Batsmen & 4 ballers against SA. We need to play Chameera. His face will give us a vital wicket may be 2. Mathews should ball with Malinga at the death. We should play Kusal in place of Chandimal and drop Tharanga to include Chameera. It should be 1.Dilshan 2.Thirimanna 3.Sanga 4.Mahela 5.Mathews 6.Kusal 7. Thisara 8.Herath 9.Lakmal 10.Malinga 11.Chameera We should send in Kusal or Thisara in batting powerplay and must ball Thisara only before 40th 35th over and not during batting powerplay. He can’t ball under pressure.