On Wednesday, the Karunaratne-led Sri Lanka team completed a 3-0 whitewash of Bangladesh and what was more encouraging than the win was the performances put up by the youngsters who were included for the third and final ODI in place of regular seniors.
Sri Lanka replaced experienced quartet Nuwan Pradeep, Lahiru Thirimanne, Isuru Udana and Dhanajaya de Silva with Kasun Rajitha, Shehan Jayasuriya, Dasun Shanaka and Wanindu Hasaranga and all of them contributed towards the comprehensive 122-run win at the R Premadasa Stadium.
“They are all pretty good players, and I just wanted to give them a chance because after this match we don’t have many one-day games for a while. They grabbed their chances really well - all the players who played today put their hands up and did a great job. That’s what we want having a lot of competition and a strong bench,” said Karunaratne at the post-match press conference.
“If a player is injured I can easily bring another. I think this is the way we have to build a good lineup. This is the time we have to bring some youngsters for the next couple of years and groom them for the next World Cup.”
The performances of the younger players Karunaratne feels has created competition for places in the one-day team.
“Beyond this team there are others around as well, who are unable to break into this side at the moment - players like (Niroshan) Dickwella and (Danushka) Gunathilaka. You need a lot of players to build up that competition within a team, so that players are constantly putting pressure on each other to perform. If you have a strong bench, the players who are in the team have to take that responsibility,” said Karunaratne.
“We’ve had an issue recently where we didn’t have that strong bench. But players are now ready, and they’ll grab the chances that come their way. I’m really happy about the way the four players that came in today - how they took their chance. But there are a lot of players trying to get that chance, so there’s pressure on the eleven. I have a team I can work with. The youngsters have a great energy about them as well.”
Karunaratne is happy that the batting line-up has finally settled down and each of the players know their position and the roles to play. This was not the case pre-World Cup and during the World Cup, Sri Lanka were still juggling with their batting line up until the arrival of Avishka Fernando at number three. His wonderful contribution with the bat enabled Sri Lanka to solve a long standing problem of a proper number three.
But following Lasith Malinga’s retirement from ODI cricket Sri Lanka once again find themselves searching for a match-winning bowler.
“More than the batsmen, I think we need to look at the bowlers, because we’ve lost Lasith aiya now. He was one of our main bowlers, and someone who put his hand up and got those wickets. We need to find bowlers who can get us wickets,” said Karunaratne.
“We also need to find all-rounders, who are important overseas. We have to find those players who deliver in tough situations. Today, pretty much everyone had a bowl, and they came up with wickets. That’s what I expect when I make a bowling change - that whoever comes on will build pressure and get a wicket. The batsmen also have to perform, because there are now players putting pressure on us,” he said.
Karunaratne said that when he was entrusted with the ODI captaincy he had spoken to Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga and they had lent their support to him unconditionally.
“With their experience they gave me a lot of support I had the support of all the players and the support staff and it enabled me to do my job properly and keep things nice and easy,” said Karunaratne.
However, the key to his success as a captain is giving the players to play with freedom.
“We didn’t have much confidence, and that’s what I tried to build as a captain. I know that when I’m low in confidence, that support is what I need. When you are batting, bowling or fielding, players don’t do badly intentionally. We give players the freedom to play their way, and don’t get cross if it doesn’t work out,” explained Karunaratne.
“Someone like Avishka, for example, got 80-odd the other night and got out, but we didn’t go to say anything to him, because I’m sure he will figure those things out on his own. If you build up players’ confidence, they know that everyone in the dressing room backs them. I think that’s how the confidence level has built up.”