No team has maximised home advantage better than Sri Lanka in ICC events, and Mahela Jayawardena will be hoping the trend continues at the ICC World Twenty20 beginning in Hambantota on September 18.
Sri Lanka has co-hosted the 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup twice, in 1996 and 2011, and made it to the finals on both occasions. In 1996, it defeated Australia in Lahore; 15 years later, it lost to India in Mumbai. When it hosted the ICC Champions Trophy 2002, Sri Lanka finished joint winners with India after the final was washed out.
While Sri Lanka might boast home advantage, its recent limited-overs form has been far from encouraging. It did bounce back to defeat Pakistan 3-1 in a five-match One-Day International series, but was outclassed 4-1 by India, and has lost two of its last three Twenty20 Internationals on home soil.
As such, Sri Lanka will have its work cut out in its bid to join India and Pakistan as subcontinent winners of the ICC World Twenty20. Sri Lanka failed to progress to the knockout stages of the first edition in South Africa in 2007, was trounced in the final in England in 2009, and lost to England in the semi-finals of the last edition, in the West Indies, by seven wickets. Its overall Twenty20 record isn’t unimpressive, with 24 wins from 41 matches for a success percentage of 59.
Sri Lanka’s Achilles’ heel in limited-overs cricket this year has been its top-order batting. Tillakaratne Dilshan, the explosive opener, and Dinesh Chandimal, the exciting youngster, have both been woefully short on runs. Only Kumar Sangakkara, the former captain, has shown any consistency, controlling the innings at No. 3 but often having to play a lone hand.
Sangakkara is just recovering from a broken finger, sustained during the ODI series against India, and played no part in the Sri Lanka Premier League which offered little by way of encouragement as far as Sri Lanka’s preparations go. However, his presence alone will lift the morale in the dressing room, and if he can instantly return to run-scoring ways, Sri Lanka will find itself in a better space.
Sri Lanka was without Sangakkara, its best batsman, and Nuwan Kulasekara, its most consistent limited-overs paceman, for most of the series against India. Both will be back for the ICC World Twenty20, as will Ajantha Mendis, the mystery spinner who is a genuine wicket-taking option in all forms of the game.
Sri Lanka has been clubbed with Zimbabwe and South Africa in Group C, and will fancy its chances of going through to the next stage, but before the Super Eights begin, it will necessarily have to hit its straps. From its perspective, it’s imperative for Dilshan to start scoring quick runs at the top of the order, and for Lasith Malinga, the slinging right-arm paceman, to rediscover wicket-taking ways.
The damage Dilshan and Malinga can inflict with bat and ball respectively will be crucial to Sri Lanka’s progress in the competition. Traditionally, Sri Lanka has been a formidable force when these two men have provided the impetus, though in recent times, it have also come to rely heavily on its all-rounders – Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis and Thisara Perera.
Sri Lanka’s greatest strength is the depth at Jayawardena’s disposal. There is a plethora of all-round talent that he can rely on, giving him multiple and varied options with the ball, though as always, he will bank on Malinga’s parsimony and incisiveness to lead the bowling pack.
After having packed the top order with its three most experienced batsmen – Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardena himself – Sri Lanka has since opted to split the three following mixed results. The lack of experience in the middle order was glaringly exposed by Pakistan, so Sri Lanka has pencilled in Chandimal at No. 4 and Jayawardena has yo-yoed up and down the order, taking the predictability factor out of the equation and exhibiting his own versatility.
Sri Lanka is a rhythm-and-confidence side, and once it gets on a roll, it is well nigh unstoppable, especially in its own backyard. Sri Lanka has been exceptional at building on momentum; South Africa will present it with its first big challenge, in the group phase, and if it come away unscathed, it will be hard to stop, recent patchy form notwithstanding.