Sri Lanka have been forced to rebuild after losing two of their finest players of all time in Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. It has not been straightforward since both players retired, with the duo leaving a huge void in the team due to their quality and experience.
Former captains Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga will provide nous in the squad, although it would be a surprise to see them advance beyond the group stage. They have a team built for the sub-continent and could be exposed by the power of the rest of the sides in the competition.
Sri Lanka are in a bit of a mess heading into the tournament. They made the surprising move to hand the captaincy to Karunaratne, who has not played in a one-day match for the Lions in four years. The experience of Chandimal and Thuranga were discarded.
Niroshan Dickwella has been one of Sri Lanka’s bright lights since the retirements of Sangakkara and Jaywardene. However, the 26-year-old was shockingly not selected for the tournament, with the decision drawing the ire of former players. Dickwella had struggled in his side’s recent series against South Africa, but he was far from their biggest concern having impressed against England last winter.
As a result, the team does not have a great deal of balance and will be sorely lacking in confidence. Sri Lanka are ranked ninth in the world entering the tournament and have not beaten a major outfit in a bilateral series since their win over the West Indies in 2016. They have been crushed recently by England, New Zealand and the Proteas.
Karunaratne has been a reliable player, but there are a lot of issues surrounding Sri Lanka cricket that need resolving. The World Cup is not the place to be involved in selection disputes. Sri Lanka won the tournament in 1996 and finished as runners-up in 2007 and 2011. Four years ago they reached the quarter-finals, but it would be stunning to say the least if they were able to conjure a run to the last four in England.
Angelo Mathews – Mathews will be under huge pressure to fire in the middle order. His team-mates around him are either inexperienced or lacking in form in the 50-over format. The 31-year-old remains a class act and proved his quality in the series against South Africa last year, although his side slipped to a series defeat.
However, his unbeaten innings of 97 did guide Sri Lanka to victory in their clash in Colombo, while he also finished the clash in Dambulla not out on 79. Mathews has the talent to play almost any role at the crease. If Sri Lanka need him to drop anchor he has a solid defensive technique, while also boasting the power to find the boundary with regularity.
He arrives in form having played a vital role in guiding the Mumbai Indians to glory in the Indian Premier League. Malinga put in a few impressive performances during the competition, including the final when he produced a special final over to guide his team to victory over the Chennai Super Kings.
The 35-year-old has not been in the best of form in the 50-over format for Sri Lanka. He struggled for rhythm in his side’s defeat to South Africa on the road earlier this year, while the same could be said for their tour of New Zealand.
Malinga claimed a five-wicket haul in a narrow defeat to England in Dambulla last year. Other than, stellar displays in the 50-over game have been hard to come by. However, he is a player that will relish the big occasion and he should lead the wicket column for Sri Lanka at odds of 11/43.75+2752.752.75-0.36 with 888Sport.
Sri Lanka’s hierarchy have made a number of interesting decisions ahead of the World Cup. It began in April when they stripped Malinga of the captaincy after he lost all eight of his matches in charge. Replacing him with Karunaratne, who has not played an ODI match in four years, was a curious move, although he does fill the same role with the Test side.
Sri Lanka’s squad looks to be one built for the sub-continent rather than the batsman-friendly pitches in England. Their batting ranks lack the power to challenge scores of 300 plus runs that the elite teams will be amassing.
The move to axe Dickwella, who is the one player that does have the ability to power the ball to the boundary, deserves scrutiny. Sri Lanka will be placing their hopes in their bowling ranks. Malinga has been up and down of late, but he does have star potential on his day.
The spinning options are not the best, although the mystery of Jeevan Mendis and Jeffrey Vandersay could be intriguing. However, there just isn’t enough for Sri Lanka to advance beyond the group stage. Back them to crash out of the tournament at the first round at odds of 1/201.05-20000.05-20.000.05 with Bet365 and even to finish bottom of the standings at 15/44.75+3753.753.75-0.27 could be worth a shout in potential showdowns against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.