After an encouraging ICC T20 World Cup campaign in 2021 and with a number of players plying their trade in the IPL, Mahela Jayawardena is confident Sri Lanka can make waves at the 2022 tournament in Australia.
After negotiating early challengers in the First Round, Sri Lanka went on to beat Bangladesh and the West Indies in UAE, also pushing South Africa in a final-over thriller in Sharjah.
Encouraged by a number of younger players who stood up in last year's campaign, Jayawardena believes the return of Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka means the side have the makings of turning over more-fancied opposition in Australia.
"I think the young team which participated in the last World Cup did really well and played some really good attacking cricket. There’s going to be a few more players who will be added to that (squad) who were suspended during that period,” Jayawardena, who joined the team as a consultant for the tournament, said on The ICC Review.
"Bhanuka Rajapaksa is there at the top of the order. Pathum Nissanka had a great T20 World Cup, and so did Charith Asalanka, so I think we’ve got a very attacking batting line-up, with plenty of young players looking forward to a second World Cup and those are the key guys for Sri Lanka going forward.
"I think we are shaping up pretty well."
With the Mumbai Indians as head coach, the ICC Hall of Famer has kept a close eye on Sri Lanka’s best turning out in the IPL, with no less than half a dozen on the books of various teams, signed up in no small part to their individual T20 World Cup success.
A member of ICC Men's ODI and T20I Teams of the Year, Wanindu Hasaranga is going from strength to strength in his second season at Royal Challengers Bangalore, while the development of Maheesh Theekshana, Dushmantha Chameera and others bode well for future national team success.
In the eyes of Jayawardena, Hasaranga will be well-accompanied by a sharp bowling attack, stifling opposition in Australia.
"I think Wanindu is going to be a key factor. He’s one of the best all-rounders in world cricket at the moment," Jayawardena said.
"Dushmantha Chameera has come a long way, I think the bowling department is going to be the key for Sri Lanka at the moment, so Dushmantha and Wanindu are key factors. Maheesh Theekshana is playing for Chennai (and) is another asset for Sri Lanka, so those three bowlers are key for Sri Lanka at the tournament.
"Overall, having seen some of the players in the IPL performing as well, getting that exposure, I think we’ll have a fairly experienced unit going towards Australia."
Sri Lanka toured Australia back in February, picking up a victory in Melbourne during the five-match T20I series and also taking the hosts to a Super Over at the SCG.
Despite entering at the First Round stage again at the upcoming tournament, Jayawardena believes the takeaways from the tour and the strong Sri Lankan support only boosts the prospects of their campaign, which begins on October 16 against in Geelong against Namibia – the tournament's curtain-raiser.
"Even in Australia they went and played a few T20s in February and performed reasonably well," he said. "I think they will definitely compete and (they) have some exciting talent to see as well.”
As for who wins the T20 World Cup later in the year, Mahela doesn’t quite have Sri Lanka in the mix just yet and places huge importance on the weeks leading into the tournament.
"It’s a tough one. There are about six or seven teams who are equally competing. We saw that in the last World Cup, who all peaked at the right time at the back end at the playoffs," he said.
"You can’t write off the defending champions Australia on their home soil. They know the conditions better and they’re going to be a team to reckon with, alongside New Zealand, England, Pakistan and India. All these teams are going to be competing at a high level."
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