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Moment of truth for Sri Lanka

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(Kumar Sangakkara is having a marvelous World Cup as batsman and wicket-keeper.) (Kumar Sangakkara is having a marvelous World Cup as batsman and wicket-keeper.)

SYDNEY: For the best part of the 2015 World Cup qualifying round, Sri Lanka have been flirting rather dangerously with their bowling and fielding with several question marks hanging over the two departments. For much of the six qualifying matches it has been their batting that has carried them through and compensated for any shortcomings in the other two areas.

Sri Lanka recorded four wins and two losses out of their Pool A matches and are likely to finish third provided Australia currently fourth beat Scotland on Saturday at Hobart and New Zealand beats Bangladesh without the game ending in a no-result or Bangladesh pulling off a win. Sri Lanka’s likely opponents in the quarterfinals here on March 18 will be South Africa.

However if one closely analyses the victories two were against associate teams Afghanistan and Scotland and the other two against Bangladesh and England, which does not speak too much for the side.

Sri Lanka’s losses have been against two of the top teams who can be ranked as among the favourites to win the World Cup – host nations New Zealand and Australia. Against these two sides Sri Lanka’s bowling and fielding were tested to the maximum and they came second best.

Sri Lanka can fancy their chances of beating South Africa if the SCG pitch favours spin, but in their game against Australia it was a far cry from what everyone expected it to be for it hardly spun.

Going on past records, both teams were flummoxed into playing an extra spinner – Australia Xavier Doherty and Sri Lanka Sachitra Senanayake.

The pitch bemused both captains as they totally misread it. It eventually turned out only one spinner (Seekkuge Prasanna) bowled his full quota of overs, which speaks so much for SCG being a spinning surface. Senanayake, Dilshan and Prasanna bowled a total of 24 overs, while for Australia Doherty and Maxwell sent down 16.

If a similar pitch is prepared for the first semi-final Sri Lanka are not going to find it to their liking as they will be deprived of unleashing their full battery of spinners at the Proteas who are not the best players of the turning ball.

When it comes to fast bowling South Africa has a far superior unit to that of Sri Lanka and their fielding is also streets ahead of ours. They are in fact one of the best fielding sides in the competition, if not the best. The best thing Sri Lanka can hope for if they meet the Proteas in the quarters if for the SCG curator to prepare a pitch that encourages spin.

Sri Lanka’s chance of beating South Africa is through spin and nothing else. Our fast bowlers besides Lasith Malinga will be cannon fodder for their South African batsmen and the way our fielders have fared in the tournament so far, we will be playing straight into their hands.

Losing a cricketer like Dinesh Chandimal is also a setback not only to the batting unit but also the fielding. He is one of the few cricketers who is very agile on the field and losing him at a crucial stage of the tournament only compounds Sri Lanka’s fielding problems for there aren’t many quick movers on the field, only a handful.

Sri Lanka cannot always depend on their batting to win matches for the bowlers must also put in their fare share of work. The only way to make the bowling unit look effective is to grab those half chances which are not sticking at the moment.

Kumar Sangakkara is in the form of his life, although he doesn’t admit it but says he plays according to situations. The ongoing World Cup will be his swansong in ODI cricket and he wants to make the most of fit and sign off on a high.

Regardless of whether Sri Lanka wins the World Cup or not, Sangakkara has certainly made the World Cup virtually his own by becoming the first batsman in the game’s history to score four consecutive centuries in ODI cricket. He could easily extend that run further depending on how far Sri Lanka progress in the tournament. During the match against Scotland he broke the World Cup record for the most number dismissals by a wicket-keeper going past Australia’s Adam Gilchrist’s 52. He currently has 54 dismissals (41ct 13st).

Not far behind Sangakkara is another experienced batter Tillakarante Dilshan who’s aim is to score 10,000 runs and take 100 wickets in ODI cricket. He has already gone past the century wicket mark, and requires a further 204 runs to reach the 10,000-run mark. In the ongoing World Cup Dilshan is the third highest run scorer behind Sangakkara (496 runs) and AB de Villiers (417) with 395 (avg. 79.00).

“If I can get to 10,000 runs during the World Cup that would mean I have to score over 500 runs which would be of immense benefit to the team and makes our chances of winning great,” Dilshan told The Nation in an interview.

A third veteran of the trade Mahela Jayawardene will also be retiring along with Sangakkara from ODI cricket. He has had a rather quite World Cup – a classic century against Afghanistan when the chips were down is all what he has achieved so far in four visits to the middle out of six matches. Jayawardene is a big game player and a challenge is all he requires to spur him to dizzy heights.

Playing cricket for a long period is bound to bring in injuries and Sri Lanka who have been on the road since December have had their fare share of it with four having already returned home and a fifth trying to recover from a finger injury ahead of next Wednesdays quarter-final. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath is a vital cog to Sri Lanka’s bowling attack. The four stitches inserted to his left index finger came off on Thursday and the team is keeping their fingers crossed that he will be able to play.

Skipper Angelo Mathews also went off the field during the Scotland innings with a strained Achilles on his right leg, but he is supposed to be fit in time for the quarter-finals.  

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