Sri Lanka: merely lucky, or back to punching-above-weight ways?

September 4, 2022

In a match that swung wildly one way, then the other, the optimists among you had reason enough to believe this Sri Lanka team is resurgent

Sri Lanka: merely lucky, or back to punching-above-weight ways?

Are you watching the Sri Lanka men's side play this year? I guess, unless you are invested in their fortunes, there is no obvious reason to. They are ranked seventh in Tests, eighth in ODIs, and eighth in T20Is. They are very decidedly not a world-beating team.

But in terms of fun had, surprises delivered, heart-stopping moments provided, they are living on the edge, folks. If you're a pessimist, they are a side on the verge of falling into cricketing irrelevance, having allowed their domestic cricket to regress for decades. In this reading, the wins are merely the final, powerful palpitations of a once-great side, raging against the dying light.

If you're an optimist, they are resurgent. They have a world-class legspinner in Wanindu Hasaranga, a solid fingerspinner in Maheesh Theekshana, and a captain who is finding his batting groove in T20Is, with others in the top order contributing sporadically. They are fighting back, getting back to their punching-above-weight ways.

This win against Bangladesh, in a match that careened in one direction, swung wildly to the other, and then back and forth several more times, provided evidence for either argument.

The pessimists can point to the spectacular luck Sri Lanka had. Kusal Mendis' innings is a case study. He could easily have been out for two, when he edged Taskin Ahmed behind, but was dropped by a diving Mushfiqur Rahim. He could have been even more easily out on 29, when Mushfiqur actually did catch him. But the bowler, Mahedi Hasan, had overstepped, and he was called back. On 31, he lightly gloved a ball that was going down the legside, but Bangladesh failed to review the not-out decision. He went on to make 60 off 37 - essentially providing the base to Sri Lanka's chase.

The finish was monumentally lucky too. Asitha Fernando had batted in only eight T20 innings before this match (his T20I debut), and had hit four fours off the 25 balls he'd faced. In this game, he walked in with Sri Lanka needing 13 off seven, and banged two fours off the three legal deliveries that came at him, essentially sealing the match.

Even Bhanuka Rajapaksa was surprised. "Asitha Fernando hit runs that we didn't expect him to hit, and won the game for us."

The optimists have a case too. Hasaranga, the best bowler in the team, got taken apart, but the batters came through, however fitfully. Dasun Shanaka, in the T20I year of his life, hit 45 off 33 to take the game deep. Chamika Karunaratne then pushed it even deeper, until the win was in striking distance for even the tailenders. They will point to the intangibles - to Fernando's tenacity, to the excellent groundfielding that prevented a truly monstrous score, to the team's increasing tendency to win tight games.

They are in for a tough week ahead, though. Afghanistan have already thrashed them. Pakistan and India are much better teams on paper. Their players have had established domestic T20 leagues over the course of the last few years, while Sri Lanka have been scrambling to make their own tournament an annual fixture. If you were a pessimist, you might argue this is a Sri Lanka team running on cricketing fumes.

But if you're the other kind of person, they had a bad day against Afghanistan, found a way to chase down 184 against a decent Bangladesh attack, and will ride into the next stage on that confidence. --Cricinfo

Sri Lanka: merely lucky, or back to punching-above-weight ways?