The pragmatic Lankans

It was the perfect start Sri Lanka wanted for the Asia cup, first a close win and then a victory by a country mile! Whilst Pakistan definitely appeared to be the tougher opponent Bangladesh sadly crumbled under the pressure exerted by both the batting and the bowling departments of Sri Lanka.

Was this the type of performance the Chairman of Selectors Aravinda De Silva was hoping for? Yes, it was a most inspiring performance and will give Sri Lanka the confidence it requires to go all the way in the Asia cup and have visions of the World Cup too!

There have been many positives in the two games on display so far and the strongest is the manner Lasith Malinga has bowled. The spells against Pakistan and Bangladesh were of high quality and a strong warning to the top batsman in the world of his ability to trouble them at a consistent rate.

Sri Lankan Bowler Anjelo Mathews (R) celebrates after he dismissed Pakistan cricketer Shahzaib Hasan AFP

He was definitely in the right groove and his release was perfect and the accuracy couldn’t have been any better for somebody with such a difficult action. And from the time Salman Butt got a peach of a delivery in the opening game which swung at pace and bowled him neck and crop, there was no doubting about what lay in store for the batsmen at the hands of Malinga. The manner he tormented the top order of both teams with his clever variations and pace which included the centurion and Pakistan skipper Afridi was brilliant.

And in the game against Pakistan when Afridi looked to counter attack taking Muralitharan and Maharoof to the cleaners, Malinga’s skidding bouncers were never easily handled by him, mishooking him once and generally swaying out of the line of the other deliveries.

True it was a good start for the Lankans and indeed satisfying to get two out of two. But one felt it was the old story that was prevalent at least in the opening game which was thankfully arrested in the game against Bangladesh. After the quick dismissal of the two openers, the Sanga Mahela show begun and then the usual collapse in the middle order to be propped by the ever improving and reliable Angelo Mathews!

With the dismissal of both Samaraweera and Kapugedara, Mathews compiled and constructed a brave innings, in the company of the lower middle order, which was precisely the reason that Sri Lanka had the breathing space it wanted. True it was Afridi who stole the thunder with his breathtaking display, but then Mathews was the quite achiever! Not just with his mature approach with the bat but also with his clever and thinking bowling prising out two of the top players in the order.

Against Bangladesh it was Thilakarathne Dilshan who stole the show with his batting first and his versatile contributions which included a spell of three wickets at a time the Lankans were rather desperate for a wicket. Besides Dilshan it was pleasing to witness the consistency of the Lankan batting on display. Despite the belligerence of Dilshan the solidity of Tharanga and off course the elegance of Sangakkara and Jayawardane the biggest positive was the batting of Chamara Kapugedara! To me Kapugedara is an enigma in a cricketing sense! A player with loads of talent but never really fulfilling it after so many opportunities. His batting against Bangladesh was pure class and never troubled at all. His lofted drive over extra cover of Mashrafe Mortaza bore the hallmark of quality.

Whilst Kapugedara had shown all of us that he has all the traits to attain greatness, the Sri Lankan fans have been kept waiting for too long to see him achieve it. Hence one hopes that Kapu will make it sooner rather than become an also ran player or somebody who promised but never delivered!

If Kapugedara is talent then what is Mathews? I believe he has been the find of Sri Lanka cricket! His approach to the game is of a veteran which defies his young age! His maturity at the crease and his cool approach to the situation will very soon make him Sri Lanka’s crisis man. If his batting has been a strong point in the Sri Lankan game plan, I believe his bowling too is not far behind. Angelo Mathews could reach the high pedestal of a genuine International allrounder in every version of the game and I hope he will take his bowling more seriously in the longer version too.

Whilst Sri Lanka’s priority is bound to be the Asia Cup in the short term, their long term objective would be to have the correct combination for the World Cup in 2011. Aravinda De Silva the Chairman of selectors was quite clear in his thinking when he last spoke to the media. Hence the players in the squad has to ensure that they get in to their grooves quickly as eight to nine months doesn’t represent too much of time to experiment. One hopes the Asia Cup will serve the Lankans as the dose or the inspiration it needs, to get their hands on the bigger one! The World Cup 2011. I believe the time is ripe for a repeat of 1996!

* Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator

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