CWC 2015: Sri Lanka: Mentally tough, physically awesome

Tilakaratne Dilshan plays away on the off side (picture: AFP)
Tilakaratne Dilshan plays away on the off side (picture: AFP)

(In conjunction with Infinity Cricket)

They’ve safely qualified for the quarter-finals.  Only Australia and New Zealand were able to defeat them comfortably; everyone else hasn’t really come close to the high-flying Sri Lankans.

Much of the credit can go to the incredible, well-oiled machine that is Kumar Sangakkara.  Four centuries, an average of 124, and 496 runs during the tournament have made a supreme statement of the class of the 37-year-old that he’s not stopping just yet.

Sri Lanka, as a cricket nation, have been here before, twice; Sangakkara once in the country’s loss to India in the 2011 final.  However, finals experience won’t be the ultimate winning factor; form is an advantage, and confidence is an advantage.

Top of that advantage list for Sri Lanka is their durable top three throughout the tournament.  There are seven centuries and 1152 runs between them after six matches, a testament to partnerships and prowess.  A 50 over game is almost broken into thirds; the first power play, overs 11-35, and the batting power play.

Marvin Attapattu, one of Sri Lanka’s long-serving opening batsman in the Sanath Jayasuria era, and now Sri Lanka’s coach, said that the ability to capitalise on key moments of the game was the one area his team pounced.

“I’ve been with these players for four years now, and we’ve come to so many big tournament matches where we have to win.  I’ve seen people raise their game, and I’ve seen people raise the whole team. I see no difference this time, and because I’ve seen that I have confidence in these guys doing it again. When it comes to pulling together and working towards a common goal, we’re among the best.”

Consistency is key in finals, and Sri Lanka’s bowlers are starting to match the mantle set by their incredible batsmen.  Lasith Malinga has 11 wickets from his past five innings, and Attapattu says he’s just as dangerous even without the express pace.

“Lasith feels confident, which is the most important thing.  You may not see the same speed that he got two or three years back, but that’s something that everybody, including the greats, have had to face. Lasith is somebody who, come the big game, can rise up to that. He’s somebody that is looking forward to having a good performance. He’s a matchwinner, and I’m sure he’ll live up to that.”

There was a time, post the 2011 World Cup, where Sri Lanka’s powerhouse fell away.  Finances were in disarray, players in the side made it look almost second string, and they were the whipping boys of world cricket for at least a year.  However, having won seven of their last 12 ODI series, that tag is with them no more.

Sri Lanka v Scotland - 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup
Angelo Mathews (picture: Getty Images)

Brute power and tenacity have come to the forefront of the modern game so rapidly, creating a dynamic like never before.  Sri Lanka, though, take it in their stride.  It is not just about sheer force, rather grace, elegance, and a little bit of invention each and every time, a la Tilakaratne Dilshan.

Such is the form the creator of the “Dilscoop” is in, his ambition to press on even further after the World Cup may rest simply on the thoughts of team management, said the right-hander.

“After the World Cup I will have to discuss with my captain and the team management what my future role in the team will be.

“If they think that I have a role to play I will continue to represent my country. With my present form and fitness I guess I can easily play for another two-three years, even till the next World Cup in 2019.”

An all-round game that can match it with the best at the top-level has seen the men in stunning royal blue and yellow score more than 300 in a chase against Australia, and another three scores above the mark during the tournament, with two of them being for the loss of just one wicket.  The only black marks were against the hosts.

Rest on their laurels now, and take the foot off the accelerator, and Sri Lanka will come to a screeching halt when they take on South Africa on Wednesday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  The Proteas, however, may well be at a disadvantage.  If they’re asked to chase a target, they must drastically improve their performance or risk being steamrolled by a team full of confidence.


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