LONDON: When Sri Lanka last played in the ongoing World Cup, the French Open was at the quarterfinals stage, the NBA Finals were 1-1, and Chris Froome was training in Tenerife.
When the Sri Lankans pop back on the tournament radar in London on Saturday, it will have been a long 11 days since their last completed match.
In that time, their opponent at The Oval, Australia, has overcome the West Indies, lost to India, and held off Pakistan. Australia captain Aaron Finch acknowledged the advantage was theirs.
“You can never take any team in this competition lightly, but the fact that we’ve been playing consistently, basically every three days, has been really positive that we’re in cricket mode at the moment,” Finch told reporters on Friday.
Sri Lanka have been the worst affected team of this rain-hit World Cup, as both of theirs fixtures — against Pakistan and Bangladesh — in Bristol were abandoned. Yet, the two points from those washouts, plus the win from its last appearance on June 4 against Afghanistan, have Sri Lanka still in the top half of the standings.
The team would much prefer to have played, however, as Sri Lanka is still trying to find its legs, and has been handicapped by going cold and losing momentum.
“We need momentum,” captain Dimuth Karunaratne said on Friday. “We are trying hard.”
The team has been forced to train mainly indoors, and to try and recreate game situations in the nets. That only goes so far, and the team is having to trust that senior players who have come through in the past will deliver against the defending champions Australians.
Karunaratne, the unexpected captain recalled after four years out of one-dayers, scored 52 not out against New Zealand and 30 against Afghanistan. Kusal Perera, with 29 and 78, is the only other batsman with more than 30 runs combined.
Batting coach Jon Lewis believes if they can safely navigate the first 10 overs against the new ball, then they have enough experience in the middle to cash in.
Lewis admits middle-order bats Kusal Mendis (2 runs combined) and Angelo Mathews (0) haven’t fired yet, and mentions all-rounder Thisara Perera (14) is overdue for a big score.
“Players of that quality will definitely come to the party soon,” Lewis said with no little hope. “You can’t expect them to go on not producing big runs soon. We are confident that’s going to come.”
On the bright side of such a long wait, fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep has been recovering from a dislocated and cut finger on his right bowling hand.
Australia, second overall with three wins from four, can go to the top of the standings with a win.
All-rounder Marcus Stoinis will miss his second straight match after straining his side last weekend while bowling in the loss to India. He has five more days before Australia’s next game against Bangladesh to come right. Mitchell Marsh has joined the squad on standby.
The absence of Stoinis affects the balance of the side. He’s Australia’s fifth bowler, and often at the death, and his allotted overs were compensated against Pakistan at Taunton by nine overs of spin from Glenn Maxwell and captain Finch. It cost Australia a combined 1-71.
But The Oval ground is much bigger, Australia can defend better, and Finch could employ Steve Smith’s leg-spin to reduce the load on Maxwell.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2019