Sri Lanka’s complete dominance over Pakistan, the no. 1 ranked T20 side with an almost second string team has put them in an enviable position to beat Australia and continue the winning trend that began with their victory against New Zealand in the third T20I at Pallekele early this month.
For the upcoming tour the Lankan squad has been strengthened by the inclusion of regular T20I skipper Lasith Malinga and batsmen Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis. The first three didn’t travel to Pakistan on the grounds of security concerns while Mendis missed the tour to an injury.
There will be added pressure on Malinga as captain to continue Sri Lanka’s winning trend following their stunning performance in Pakistan.
The last occasion Sri Lanka played a T20I series in Australia in 2017 they won by a 2-1 margin. The present team comprises five players from that tour namely Malinga, Lakshan Sandakan, Dickwella, Kusal Mendis and Dasun Shanaka.
“This series will be a good test how good we are on Australian pitches and conditions because the World T20 will also be held in Australia next year. If we perform well these players will have a good chance of making it to the World T20 squad,” said Malinga addressing a media conference at SLC headquarters prior to the team’s departure to Australia.
While praising the efforts of the team that defeated the no. 1 ranked T20 side Malinga said the young and inexperienced players more than made up for the loss of four senior cricketers.
Asked whether he regretted not going to Pakistan Malinga replied, “I am looking at it from the brighter side. My absence has given another cricketer to perform. Likewise in the future I have no big ambitions. I have retired from Test and ODIs and my only goal is the T20I. When I took over the captaincy I said whoever is captain we need to build a strong T20 squad for the World T20. We are progressing on the right track and the Pakistan tour showed there was a new leader in waiting in Dasun Shanaka. When you look at it from that point I am quite happy that my absence from the team has given a break to another player and produced another good T20 captain for the future. Like Shanaka, Kasun Rajitha, Nuwan Pradeep and Lahiru Kumara all of them got a chance to play consistently.”
Malinga who is a vastly experienced T20 cricketer having played in the IPL for almost a decade explained what it takes to win a T20 match.
“In a T20 contest we always look at taking a decision much quicker than in a fifty-over or a Test match. The one decision you take can either win or lose the match. Like your skills the decision s that you take will decide the eventual result so what is important to us is like the players’ skills their intelligence - how a player thinks on the field in different situations. In a team of 11 there should be at least seven intelligent players. For the World T20 we require intelligent cricketers to serve us,” said Malinga.
“We have a practice game on October 24 and we have a day or two for practices in the first seven days. After that more than practice what is important is getting the players mentality prepared - how they are going to face the three T20Is,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s interim head coach Rumesh Ratnayake said that Australia was a huge challenge but they were confident and ready to take it on.
“Australia is a huge challenge. Everybody knows the level of cricket they play. They have been the best in all formats. Having these four players would certainly strengthen us. It’s a stronger team than the one that went to Pakistan. We are very confident that we can do much better or challenge Australia in a better way than before,” said Ratnayake.
“Three years ago we played against them and we did extremely well. It is more challenging now because their senior players have come in. If you see the names it’s a very strong side. We know what we are in for and can challenge them,” he said.
Ratnayake said that it was important to have the winning habit. “The four players who have joined us have been in those winning situations. Malinga has always been in India with IPL or whatever format. It is important that we inculcate that winning culture in the boys.”
Team manager and chief selector Ashantha de Mel stressed that although winning is important what the selectors were looking at when picking sides is current form.
“Winning is important but what we are looking at more is form. In Pakistan some of the players showed that they were in good form. Going to Australia it’s a challenge for us. We need to discuss with the captain and see the players who are coming in how their performance is, because they haven’t played cricket for a month. We will take that also into account when we are picking the final eleven. The last four games we have won and all the 16 players we are taking have been in a winning team. It’s just the form that we need to look at,” said De Mel.Sri Lanka play Australia on October 27 (Adelaide), October 30 (Brisbane) and November 1 (Melbourne).