Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Obligatory World Cup Rant

ICC Cricket World Cup, Australia & New Zealand, 2015

After a disappointing ODI series against New Zealand, Sri Lankan cricket fans have flocked in numbers to throw their opinions around social media as to why Sri Lanka are having such a bad run in New Zealand, when they were expected to be one of the top contenders for this world cup. Blaming selection mishaps, pointing fingers at under performing players and by glorifying those who were not selected, they have already come to a consensus that Sri Lanka are already out of the tournament, before it has even begun. 

One of the main talking points about the whole selection fiasco, is the leaving out of Upul Tharanga and Kusal Perera, and naming Dimuth Karunaratne, to which Sanath Jayasuriya has come out and admitted that he did actually make a blunder. Well of course, every time you drop and select players to the ODI team based on Test performances, it really needs to be considered a blunder. When Lahiru Thirimanne was Sri Lanka's man of the series at the Asia cup as an opener, he was dropped from the ODI side later on his Test form. Selecting Dimuth after his 150 at Christchurch was merely the opposite end of the stick of that same blunder. But, to be fair to Thirimanne, he has got his place back thanks to the continuous failure of both Kusal and Dimuth. And to be honest, Sri Lanka's opening problems end there, because Thirimanne is a much better batsman than Kusal, Tharanga and Dimuth, having the technique to survive the new ball, and also to accelerate when needed with the big shots. He's sort of a hybrid between all three prior names. The blunder was not to name him the opener in the first place. Dimuth's selection and Tharanga's omitting were just sub-blunders that followed.

Realistically speaking, Upul Tharanga being left out is not a blunder at all. If Sri Lanka dropped TM Dilshan, or Angelo Mathews, that would be a blunder, because these are players without who Sri Lanka would not win the world cup. Upul Tharanga maybe a vital cog in the machine, but he's not what Dwayne Bravo is to the West Indies. The opening slot has been filled perfectly by Thirimanne, and Upul Tharanga's argument ends there. He has no place in this team. With Dimuth as the reserve opener, as of now, he won't even make it as a reserve. 

With Thirimanne slotting in as the opener, all this rubbish about
Tharanga not being selected needs to end.

But Dimuth as a reserve doesn't make sense either, because Sri Lanka do not have a reserve middle order batsman for this world cup. With Jeewan Mendis's failures, this weakness has been thoroughly exposed. Sri Lanka should ideally have taken an extra middle order batsman, who bowls a bit, pretty much a like-for-like replacement for Mendis to the world cup. Some one in the mold of Ashan Priyanjan, or Kithruwan Vithanage. Even a Chamara Kapugedara would have sufficed. But the real option would have been to take the big hitting, dart throwing Angelo Perera, a Sri Lankan version of JP Duminy/Suresh Raina almost. Since he wasn't given enough opportunities before the world cup as Sri Lanka persisted with the can't bat-can't bowl-can't field-Seekkuge Prassanna, Angelo Perera's name would not even have appeared on the probable list. But from the recent try outs, at least Priyanjan should have made the cut.

It is what it is for now. The squad actually isn't half as bad. It's a lot stronger and more balanced than the one we had in 2011, where Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva and Chamara Kapugedara were our middle order accumulators, and Dilshan and Mathews was the only batsman who could bowl, and Kula was the only bowler who could bat. This time, in Dilshan, Mahela and Sanga, Sri Lanka have a wealth of experience. In Mathews they have form and confidence. In Herath and Kulasekara, they have dependability. And in Chandimal, Thirimanne, Thisara, Jeewan, Prasad, Sachithra and Suranga, they have immense raw talent. And if they are lucky, they will also have Malinga, who is an army on his own. 13 out of the 15, have ODI high scores which are 40+. 10 out of the 15 have ODI best figures of more than 3 wickets. On paper, this is team can beat anyone.

Sri Lanka's most important matches of the group stage, contrary to popular belief, are not the ones against Australia, New Zealand and England. It is the three games they play against Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland. Because those are the three games they need to win, to make it to the quarter finals. Any win against the top three teams, would only be a bonus, not to face South Africa at the quarter finals. The other 3 teams from group A may take any order, including even the West Indies, if they manage to bat 50 overs. And unlike any other world cup since 1999, this one doesn't have ONE clear front runner, and is an open tournament. Three teams; South Africa, Australia and New Zealand look to have greater odds, but the other teams are not far behind.

In truth, Sri Lanka, for the first time since 2003 are not one of the top 3 favorites. On recent form, their chances of making past the quarter finals are dim. But once Sri Lanka get the wins against the bottom 3 teams in their group, they are only 3 knock out games away from winning the trophy. They play their quarter final at the SCG due to higher ICC ranking than England, as the hosts play in MCG and at Eden Park. The wicket at the SCG turned heaps during the recent New Year's test. Who knows what might happen once we are in the knockout stages.

As a team, if they are to impress more than they did against New Zealand, Sri Lanka need to up their fielding. Chandimal needs to get his act together at number 5 or 6. Thisara and Jeewan need to contribute more consistently with the bat and ball, or one of them will have to make way for a specialist bowler, in which case Chandimal will have to be extra responsible as Sri Lanka will only be fielding 6 batsmen. The bowlers will need to find ways to curb the runs at the death, specially the likes of Kulasekara and Herath will have to step up to the plate, this probably being their last ODI world cup as well. And the big three along with Mathews will have to deliver big. 

In the 2011 Final, Thisara Perera's cameo announced him to the world.
This time around, more consistence will be expected from him

As Sri Lankan cricket fans, we tend to place our hopes in one of two extremes. Either we will beat everyone to the ground and win the cup, or we will lose to even Afghanistan and get knocked out. We are so passionate that we either need to be all hopeful and positive, or completely disappointed and hopeless. The middle ground is to be realistic of what this squad can achieve, and try not to be too hopeful neither too pessimistic.

Reality is that odds do not favor Sri Lanka to win the world cup this time around, but what Sri Lankans need to realize is that you don't need to be favorites to win a World Cup. The world cup has been won by underdogs too. That is the only way we've won this cup previously anyway. Because odds don't determine wins. Players do.


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