Sri Lanka have done some soul-searching. It was perhaps overdue, given the number of ODIs they have lost over the past 19 months. But even if there are only 10 months to go until the World Cup, it has finally happened, and problems have been identified. Essentially, Sri Lanka have been left behind in a format they were once pioneers in, and must now “change the way [they] play”, as Angelo Mathews puts it, to have any hope of closing the vast gap with the best teams.
“We have to take a look at where we have gone wrong in the past,” Mathews said ahead of the third ODI against South Africa, in which Sri Lanka will attempt to avoid a series loss. “In the last 36 ODIs, we have won only nine games and we keep giving excuses. We can give excuses like we have had too many captains, or we’ve rotated too many players. The fact remains that in the last ten series or so we have won only one. We need to change the way we think and our strategies. We sat as a group and we are going to change the way we play.”
One of the changes Mathews hopes to make is to become more proficient across a variety of conditions, rather than simply being specialists on spinning tracks at home. The first two matches in Dambulla were played on more batting-friendly tracks than were seen in the Test series – perhaps a purposeful shift, to allow Sri Lanka to accustom themselves to the style of pitches expected in England next year.
“Ten months away from World Cup we need to find out whether we are going to gain anything by playing on dusty slow wickets against a team like South Africa,” Mathews said. “Usually what we do when we play teams like England, South Africa and Australia is to give them turning wickets. We rely on our spinners too much, I think. In Tests that is fine, but you cannot do that in ODIs, as you need to look at the bigger picture, which is the World Cup.
“We have got to start playing on good wickets. Yes, it might take a bit of time but I can assure you that the team will improve going forward and once the guys get used to it, we can win overseas. The last nine series if you take we have chassed more than 300 three times. That shows that we are a good team and we can play on good wickets. That is the change that we need to make.”
Aside from an over-reliance on spin, poor fielding has also plagued Sri Lanka since the start of 2017. On Wednesday, in the second ODI, Sri Lanka dropped two straightforward catches inside the first 10 overs of South Africa’s chase, and had also been woeful in the field. Mathews had said Sri Lanka had fielded like “school kids” right after the loss, and he had more harsh words on his team ahead of the third ODI. “It was a terrible day for us when it comes to fielding. The first 40 minutes was like a joke – I have never seen my team fielding as bad as we did in the last game. Hopefully it was just a one-off.” (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)