WC team profile: Sri Lanka plot perfect swansong for veterans
Neither heavyweights nor makeweights - that is how Sri Lanka are being seen by their opponents ahead of the cricket World Cup which commences Feb 14.
Christchurch: Neither heavyweights nor makeweights - that is how Sri Lanka are being seen by their opponents ahead of the cricket World Cup which commences Feb 14.
They are not being considered as "favourites" and they are happy to live with that. Skipper Angelo Mathews recently said that they are relishing the "underdogs" tag and are unperturbed by the low expectations.
"We're happy to walk into the World Cup as underdogs. No one really expects us to win," he said.
But what they lack in general perception, they compensate with experience, possessing several former captains in the team.
Having several ex-leaders in a squad can be a double-edged sword for any skipper. For example the Pakistan team and their predicament over the years. But Mathews isn't bothered by any such worries simply because his seniors, like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, have conducted themselves impeccably throughout their career, being role models for their sincerity.
This strength also helped them in reaching the finals of the last two editions of the tournament.
To strengthen their impressive pedigree, they have reached the semi-finals five times out of the last six International Cricket Council (ICC) competitions.
That is not to say they have wowed the audience with scintillating brand of cricket, neither they have been consistently the best side in these tournaments. They are resilient enough to do the spadework silently and have been rewarded for their efforts.
But the 1996 champions, typically, are not in the best shape in the build-up to the mega event, having lost their preparatory seven-match One-Day International (ODI) series 2-4 to New Zealand in January.
They have since been bolstered by the return of 'slingshot' pacer Lasith Malinga, their spearhead, from a long-term ankle complaint. He required surgery to eradicate the pain and has been gradually working his way up to match-fitness. The Islanders' bowling fortunes depend heavily on the right-armer in their recent major tournaments.
A lot depends on his form and fitness. Mathews, though, denies his team's attack is only reliant on him but it's this one-dimensionalism that can hurt their ambitions big time.
Their deficiency in wicket-takers have been counterbalanced by bowling all-rounders Thisara Perara and Nuwan Kulasekara, and Mathews himself.
But unlike their bowling, their batting, albeit top-heavy, seems to be well-sorted. Senior batsmen Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sangakkara have been superbly consistent in ODIs over the past two years.
Their efforts are supplemented by another veteran Jayawardene, one of the most composed customers around and a supreme big-match player. Focus will particularly be on Sangakkara and Jayawardene, both of whom having announced the tournament to be their ODI swansong.
Oodles of experience is well supported by Mathews in the lower middle-order, adept at performing the role of a "rescuer" if the innings endures a top-order failure.
They have built a reputation of being a street-smart solid unit devoid of any coruscating talent who can win matches single-handedly but rely on the old-fashioned team-game to surprise opponents regularly.
Sri Lanka have long resigned to becoming the bridesmaid. And this time there is quiet optimism building in the team. The team will undoubtedly be hungry for glory, not least because this will be the last chance for the outgoing veterans to do so.