With scores below 300 becoming increasingly rare in modern one-day international cricket, a new fan of the sport could be forgiven for thinking that big-hitting batsmen were the nucleus around which the entire game evolved.
There is, however, at least one player involved in this year’s ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 who disagrees with the view that power hitting is integral to a strong limited-overs team.
When asked if he was worried at the lack of recognised hard-hitting batsmen in the Sri Lankan squad, Lahiru Thirimanne told the ICC, “I think before the 2014 T20 World Cup, people were saying the same thing. People were saying we needed to work on our power hitting but we ended up winning the World Cup at the end of the day.”
In the final of that tournament, Sri Lanka chased 131 with relative ease, thanks largely to an unbeaten 52 by Kumar Sangakkarra. They only once scored more than 170 in the tournament, when they racked up 189/4 against England, a total England chased down with two balls to spare thanks largely to a mammoth 116* from Alex Hales.
Rather than rely on batsmen making big scores, Sri Lanka relied upon their bowlers to defend whatever score they could muster, a strategy exemplified by their final group game, where having stumbled their way to 119 all out, Rangana Herath produced an outstanding spell of 5/3 as New Zealand fell to 60 all out.
That was T20, the domain of the most aggressive batsmen, the hardest-hitting batsmen, the sloggers. And yet even there, Sri Lanka managed to win despite a side that many thought would not be able to score quickly enough to compete. Fifty-over cricket – where there is so much more room for the serene, the watchful, and the patient – surely lends itself more to this philosophy. Thirimanne certainly believes so.
“You have 50 overs, it’s a long game. You have 300 balls to work on your game, it’s a long game I believe,” he said. When asked if he had worked on any new shots to try to increase his own scoring rate, he replied, “Not really, because I stick to my game plan ... But if the opportunities are there, I will play different shots.”
The 2014 World T20 is not the only past tournament from which the former Sri Lanka captain is looking to draw inspiration. He was six years old when Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup, and he remembers watching it with his family. "At that time also, we were not that good before the World Cup, we lost some matches, but in the World Cup, we played really well and won,” he pointed out.
The records going into the 1996 and 2019 World Cups are somewhat different. Since Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa, they have lost 13 of their last 15 completed ODIs, with one of those wins coming against Scotland. In comparison, of their 15 games before the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka had won seven.
That World Cup success for Sri Lanka also marked the start of the now almost universal tactic of aggressive batting in the early overs of the innings, with their openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana using the approach to great effect; a striking difference to Thirimanne and his opening partner, captain Dimuth Karunaratne, both of whom have career strike rates in the low-70s.
Thirimanne was somewhat of a surprise inclusion in the Sri Lankan squad, having not played an ODI since December 2017, until the side’s 35-run DLS victory against Scotland in May 2019. He was not surprised at his inclusion though. “I was in the Test side five or six months ago, so it was not that hard [to get in the squad].
"But we had a domestic tournament about a month ago, so I had a chance to perform well there and get into the team. It was a good tournament for me because even though I played the last World Cup, and everyone thought I can somehow contribute to the team in this World Cup, I was lucky I had a chance to perform well in the domestic season and get into the team.”