Hatem Rajabdeen | 10:49am gmt 06 Mar 2008
Sri Lanka's performance this Australian summer has been far below its ability. There has been a severe slump in their one day form over the last six months or so, which included a series loss at home to England.
We haven't seen the standard of cricket from them that took the side to the World Cup finals last year. The main reason for Sri Lanka's lack of success has been its batting which hasn't fired at the top and the late middle order.
Sri Lanka traditionally have used a seven batsman, four bowler strategy in the one-day game. This changed on the Australian tour whereby they went with one extra bowler. The bowlers have done a splendid job for them over the Commonwealth Bank tri-series, including restricting Australia to its lowest one-day score in over 10 years in the process.
Sri Lanka's pace trio of Lasith Malinga, Chaminda Vaas and Ishara Amarasinghe have bowled well right through out the series and the return of Farvez Maharoof into the side over the last couple of games bolstered the attack greatly. Spin master, Muttiah Muralitharan, was played really well by both Australia and India, whereby they have played out his overs with out attempting many risks.
Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jayawardena, has failed to bury the opposition at times, despite his strike bowlers often putting the side in the driving seat. He has lacked the confidence to place attacking field settings, even when his side are in an ideal situation in the match. In Sri Lanka's match against India in Adelaide, they had India three wickets down for 35 runs in some 13 overs and a out of form Yuvraj Singh entering the crease. Attacking with a bowler of the class of Muralitharan at that time would have been the logical move, instead Yuvraj was helped back into form with a lack of pressure placed on him from the Sri Lankan skipper. Yuvraj went on to make a match-winning 76, putting the game beyond Sri Lanka's reach.
The Lankans have been predictable in most of their decision making which gives the opposition, especially of the quality of Australia and India a real upper-hand. Muralitharan only gets used midway through the innings and isn't used as a strike bowler. The message given across is that he has been protected during the times the power play is on.
Its interesting to visualize how Australian captain Ricky Ponting would have used a champion spinner of the calibre of Muralitharan in the one-day game. The safe assumption would be in the most attacking way possible. Even instances when Sri Lanka have found it difficult to break partnerships as when Gilchrist took them a part in Perth, Muralitharan wasn't introduced in the power play. He may very well have broken through there, but he wasn't tried at all.
Sri Lanka on this tour have depended a lot on the batting of their skipper Jayawardene and Sangakkara. Kumar Sangakkara is batting better than he has ever done in his career and on form, he is the number one batsman in world cricket. Sri Lanka need to sit down and reassess their resources in order to return to the form that was on show during the last year's World Cup.
Sanath Jayasuriya is past his best and seems to lack motivation, something which could never have been said until recently. The opening combination is of worry to the Sri Lankan selectors and a long-term solution is yet to be found. Youngster Upul Tarang, who is currently in a bad trot, should be back into the fold pretty soon.
The form of the middle order comprising Kapugedera, Silva and Dilshan is also of much concern. Kapugedera, after a fine domestic season hasn't found his footing on the international circuit. However, in his defence, he has always walked in when the team either had to accelerate or when they were in a state of collapse. He hasn't had it easy. According to Sangakkara, Sri Lanka should have faith in Kapugedera. He is just 20 and it is only a matter of time before he comes good.
Sri Lanka also should take a leaf out of the Indian book and the spectacular way they have performed this summer. The youngsters have done a great job under Dhoni, who has been an inspiration with his attacking leadership. He has believed in his men and attacked accordingly. One hopes Mahela Jayawardene and the Sri Lankan think tank can look to replicate the Indian method in the near future.
Sri Lanka have vastly under-achieved since the World Cup and they will be looking to come back and show the world what they are truly capable of achieving in the shorter version of the game. But it will not happen without changes and some serious soul searching.