Preparations for World T20 begins with Kiwi series | Sunday Observer

Preparations for World T20 begins with Kiwi series

Kusal Perera bats at a practice session at Pallekele ahead of today’s T20 match against New Zealand
Kusal Perera bats at a practice session at Pallekele ahead of today’s T20 match against New Zealand

Sri Lanka struggled during the 2019 Cricket World Cup to get their batting combination sorted out and towards the end of the tournament they had more or less got it right for towards the tailend of the World Cup and the three ODIs that followed against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka played more as a settled one-day side.

Sri Lanka now find themselves in a similar situation with regard to the other white ball format the T20 international where the team finds itself in total disarray. The three-match T20I series against New Zealand beginning at Pallekele Cricket Stadium today provides the first opportunity to get the batting and bowling combinations right looking ahead at next year’s World T20 for which Sri Lanka have the embarrassment of having to qualify for a place.

Their current ranking at eight even below Afghanistan just goes to prove the two-time finalists are nowhere near as good as they were at one time.

The T20 combinations Sri Lanka has fielded over the past couple of years has been so unbalanced that the team performances have dropped drastically. Sri Lanka’s T20 captain Lasith Malinga said that he was not so concerned about the rankings but the performances of the individual players and their contributions to the team.

“When we went for the 2014 World T20 we were ranked sixth or seventh and still we became champions. What is important right now is not what position we are ranked but the performances of the players,” said Malinga at the pre-match press conference yesterday.

“If we play against strong opposition and if our players can perform against them that is what is most important. We need to create an environment for the players to perform at their best.

“When we went to the 2019 World Cup in England we were ranked eighth but we went and defeated England who became champions. To me ranking is just a number what is important is how we perform against the opposition. We are approaching this series against New Zealand with the intention of winning,” he said.

Malinga has been appointed to lead his country for this series only but he is determined to make the most of it and ensure that Sri Lanka has a properly balanced side by the time they qualify for the World T20.

“Our journey towards the World T20 in 2020 begins with this series. We have 19 T20 Internationals to play before that and by that time whoever is the captain we should have a good balanced combination then only we can go into the tournament with confidence. That is my goal as captain for this series,” said Malinga.

“We have a few experienced players so we must identify what roles they have excelled in, in the past and how we can maximize their contribution to the team. We are in the process of listing them, sometimes you might find some new faces as well. I have been given a very young squad and we need to give these players as much exposure as possible within the 19 T20 matches we have before the World T20.

“The first ten matches we need to experiment with new players and once we have got an idea of what our combination is going to be we should play the next nine T20s with that squad which will more or less represent the country at the World T20,” he said.

Malinga is three wickets shy of becoming the first Sri Lankan bowler to capture a hundred T20 international wickets and there is a very good chance he may achieve it during the series.

“My personal achievement is not of consequence to me but we need to win the contest. If I get the three wickets tomorrow we will win. I try to take on as much pressure as possible without passing it onto the younger players who may not be able to take it,” said Malinga.

One of the concerns they would have on an immediate basis, starting from Sunday’s clash in Pallekele, is over Akila Dananjaya, who was recently reported for chucking. Whether Sri Lanka would want to use him in this series remains a question.

New Zealand ranked two places higher than Sri Lanka at six will be looking to improve on it with a series win under a new captain Tim Southee who also has a young side to lead with the New Zealand selectors deciding to rest captain Kane Williamson.

Barring Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill, there isn’t much experience to fall back on. Southee has a largely inexperienced squad at his disposal, with most of the players yet to adjust to the sultry climes of Sri Lanka.

Colin de Grandhomme and Mitchell Santner have been around, but this will also present the visitors with a good opportunity to find their best fits, and hopefully even strong back-up options.