Sri Lanka has started off the World T20 challenge in grand style with their good win over Afghanistan.
There are definite positives to be taken with it. The biggest naturally is the batting of Dilshan, who made an outstanding contribution to take Sri Lanka over the line and spare them a few blushes. For the genuine and the ardent fan this is a fantastic start, and may also be hoping that the Lankans may go all the way, and possibly even win the plum! But how far close is this expectation from the ground reality is what we need to understand. Whilst my hope is that Sri Lanka should win the plum and do well it may not be the reality as the tournament progresses.
Let's take a closer look at the Sri Lankan effort against Afghanistan. Whilst a win is a win against any team, however strong or weak for that matter, I am sure the think tank is certain to concentrate on areas that need improvement. My biggest worry has now got even worse. What I mean here is the death bowling problem Sri Lanka had against Afghanistan, allowing them not only to recover but to get over a hundred in the last ten overs. My hope was that Malinga would play in the rest of the tournament after being rested for the first game, but what most Sri Lankans dreaded has come right, and that is the aggravation of the injury of Malinga forcing him out of the tournament. This naturally is a body blow for Sri Lanka as Malinga is the best death bowler, and also considering the fact that Sri Lanka is just about to encounter the bigger teams. If one considers the effort of Gayle vs England and the South African batting effort against England again and vice versa, then the bowling as a whole is a massive issue! Whom does Sri Lanka have to curtail them? Malinga was naturally the answer but now that door is closed. It will be a big headache for the selectors to pick a replacement as there is no one close to the quality of Malinga. The closest yet by a big distance on form could be Kasun Rajitha, though the youngster will not be ready to walk into a World event playing eleven. In that scenario one can't envy the selectors at all!
But as for the available squad, Sri Lanka has very little to call from, and unless the bowling comes good Sri Lanka is bound to suffer. One other factor, in my argument, is that the batting not having real power hitters who could give two runs per ball from their own bats! South Africa, West Indies and even England have a few of those, and hence, chasing big targets don't frighten them too much. For Sri Lanka to win opposing teams have to be curtailed or limited, as there is only so much the batsmen could produce.
To my mind that is the biggest worry the Lankans have at the moment and they need to devise a plan, first to stop Gayle who was brutal in Mumbai and played possibly one of the best T20 innings seen so far. Before they think South Africa and England their next priority has to be stopping the West Indies and that can be done by largely neutralizing Gayle! What would Sri Lanka's plan be? With so much of technology available I am sure a strategy is bound to be in place. To my mind could be the off spinner Sachithra Senanayake to be used against the left hander. That to me is the most obvious and the straightforward way that's available to the Lankans, but outside that what would it be? This is where the weight of Malinga's presence becomes so critical and crucial. He would have been the man to work out Gayle and the rest, which naturally was going to be the key in the overall scheme of things. This is where the big hole is and need to be filled. Mathews with the new ball is quite useful but my thinking is Kulasekara and Thisara Perera, though in fairness Perera was close to his old self with both bat and ball, which is most encouraging and welcome from the team's point of view.
Chameera has also fast matured or maturing as judging by the bowling position he gets used, which is in the last few overs of the power play and also at the end of the innings. It's another positive for the Lankans. Despite these being promising situations that has to develop and deliver, the real issue is the need for the bowling to ensure that the opposing batsmen are curtailed. That is the real issue involving the Lankans and their efforts to win the World T20. My thinking is based especially after the inexperienced and the lesser known Afghanistan batsmen took on and dominated the Lankan bowling. I wonder whether it's not a worry when the bigger names are yet to be engaged! Time will tell us how accurate this assessment is!