One thing is clear after Sri Lanka’s great run-chase against England in Wellington: the make-up of the side needs a re-think. Because although the batting is top-class and is clicking superbly well, the bowling is very obviously proving a big weakness and a major headache for captain Angelo Mathews, especially in the closing overs of an innings. And while it is great to see the top-order firing with the bat as well as it is, you cannot ask them to score a minimum of 300 runs in every innings just to keep the side in the match.
Against the very best sides that Sri Lanka will face later in the tournament that will be a very tough ask. The likes of Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Mathews himself have all produced with the bat so far; now it is time to ask the bowlers and fielders to come to the party and restrict the opposition to 230 or 240. And in my opinion, aside from holding on to any chances that are offered, the best way to do that is to bolster the bowling line-up by sacrificing a batsman.
That would be tough on Dimuth Karunaratne or Dinesh Chandimal, but the way to top order is playing and the way the attack is failing to restrict the opposition means having seven specialist batsmen is a waste of a spot. The need is to be positive and back six specialist batsmen to do the job.
In place of that seventh batsman I would include Nuwan Kulasekara. He will give Mathews an extra option with the ball, especially at the end of the innings, and he can do a job at seven or eight with the bat. Just ask England about that as you may remember he batted at number five in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy and made an unbeaten 58 from 38 balls to help Sangakkara in a successful chase of 294. The presence of that extra bowler will be especially vital over the next couple of matches with the news that Rangana Herath has had stitches inserted into his left index finger.
He has been Sri Lanka’s steadiest and most reliable bowler so far in the tournament, providing Mathews with control, and if, as appears likely, he is ruled out for a while then that additional bowling resource for the captain, alongside the inclusion of Sachithra Senanayake in place of Herath, will be vital. We have seen glimpses of the best of Lasith Malinga so far but he is still feeling his way back to full fitness, Thisara Perera has proved expensive and Suranga Lakmal has a real day to forget against England. It all added up to a difficult afternoon for Mathews and even allowing for the problems a captain faces because of the fielding restrictions, to concede 106 in the final 10 overs is too many runs.
Sri Lanka’s next match is not until next Sunday against Australia, an encounter that is shaping up to be the one that will decide which of the two teams will finish second in the pool. Mathews’ men obviously want to get that spot as the higher they finish, the more likely they are to face a weaker team from the other pool in the quarter-final. But despite that, I would not try to rush Herath back, either for that match or for the clash with Scotland three days later.
An injury like the one he has picked up to his spinning finger needs time to heal so I would allow him the maximum time to recover, safe in the knowledge Sri Lanka’s quarter-final is not for another two-and-a-half weeks, on 18 March, and is at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a venue the side has enjoyed playing at over the years. As it is, Senanayake’s inclusion in place of Herath would add some hitting power down the order, another reason to opt for the selection of the extra bowler.
The team now has a full week to rest up and prepare for the match against Australia while, for Michael Clarke’s side, it will be a third game in nine days after match-ups with New Zealand in Auckland and Afghanistan in Perth, two venues as far apart as it is possible to get in this World Cup. But do not expect Australia to be tired. It will be quite the opposite, in fact, as they will be relishing the chance to play a series of matches in quick succession after two weeks without a game. And they will be out to prove a point after being beaten by Brendon McCullum’s team at Eden Park.
Having said that, Sri Lanka have nothing to fear. The batsmen have been brilliant, and even allowing for the fact that in the past two matches, against Bangladesh and England, only three of them have actually got the crease, I do not see that as a problem. The likes of Jayawardena and Mathews have scored runs already in the tournament and they will be doing everything they need to do to ensure they are ready next time they do have to bat so I have no concerns on that front. Three wins in a row, two of them with outstanding batting displays, should make the dressing room a good place to be, and once again Sri Lanka is set to be a threat at the business end of a major event.