The Asia Cup 2016 in Bangladesh will make its T20 debut in the 14th edition. The tournament, which is seen as the dress rehearsal for the ICC World Twenty20 in March, has a special place for Sri Lanka, who, along with India, have won the title five times since the inception of the tournament in 1984.
Despite suffering a 2-1 loss at the hands of India in the recently concluded away T20I series, Sri Lanka’s squad for the Asia Cup looks a formidable outfit with the return of the veterans who missed the India series due to various reasons. And the island nation will see this tournament as the perfect opportunity to show the world that they are one of the best despite the retirement of legendary duo Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who were part of the 2014 title-winning squad that beat Pakistan in the final.
In an in-form India, unpredictable Pakistan and giant killers Bangladesh, Sri Lanka have their task cut out; but the five-time champions have the arsenal to take them all the way in Mirpur.
Newly appointed skipper Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Rangana Herath and Nuwan Kulasekara are all seasoned campaigners, and their comeback will add a lot of strength to the Sri Lankan team. Malinga, who is the highest wicket taker in T20Is with 38 wickets, has been asked to take over the leadership duties from Dinesh Chandimal.
In the absence of Sangakkara and Jayawardena, SL have many young batsman who can help them pull off a surprise in the tournament. The responsibility to lead the batting will be on Tillakaratne Dilshan, who is the most experienced player in the squad. Though not in the same prolific form that made ‘Dilscoop’ famous, the veteran opener may come into his own at the big stage.
Over the last few years, Dinesh Chandimal has been one of their most consistent batsman in Tests and ODIs but he has yet to establish himself in the T20 format. His average is less than 15 in 28 T20I international innings. However, he has the talent and would be hoping to take charge this time around.
Among all, vice captain and allrounder Angelo Mathews could turn out to be the key man for the Lankans. He is perhaps the most underrated batsman currently and has often bailed his team out of tough situations.
Apart from the trio, the rest of the batting is relatively inexperienced. Shehan Jayasuriya has played just five T20Is, Niroshan Dickwella has also played only two T20Is and couldn’t do much in the three games on India tour.
Dasun Shanaka’s all-round skills can be one of their surprise weapons in Bangladesh, but he was exposed when asked to bowl on batting-friendly tracks in India following the game played on green Pune track.
With batting looking not so great, SL possess a good bowling line-up. With Malinga and the reliable legspinner Herath back. They can give any team a run for their money. And with the supporting line-up consisting of Mathews, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thisara Perera and Sachitra Senanayake – they have experience and match winners in their kitty. Much of the bowling unit that had been vital to Sri Lanka’s 2014 World T20 victory remains in place. Also a word must be reserved for lanky pace Dushmantha Chameera, who, along with Malinga, gives the Lankan attack pace to rattle the opposition batsmen.
No spin threat
Sri Lanka have been attributed to producing quality spinners through the years. From legendary Muthiah Muralitharan to Kumar Dharmasena and then for some time it looked like Mendis had picked up the baton.
In T20Is, he still holds the record for best figures: 6/8 vs Zimbabwe and 6/16 vs Australia. But that moment has passed and it didn’t live as long as many Sri Lankans would have liked.
Going into the Asia Cup starting 24 February, Sri Lanka won’t boast of a strong chunk in their armour – a spinner.
They do have the likes of Rangana Herath, Sachithra Senanayake, Jeffrey Vandersay, Milinda Siriwardana and Shehan Jayasuriya’s in their midst but that difference maker is missing.
The lack of wicket taking or run stopping solutions, provided by a spinner, hinges the balance away from The Lions.
This was evident at the final T20 against India in Vishakhapatnam where Ravichandran Ashwin won the ball beautifully to win India the game. On the same track, key spinner in Senanayake was barely getting the juice out of the pitch.
With a much depleted spin department, Sri Lanka’s hopes would effectively lie with their seamers. Captain Lasith Malinga is expected to spearhead the attack. Giving him support will be Nuwan Kulasekara and Thisara Perera.