It is quite ironic that Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are scoring runs for fun in Twenty20 leagues across the world while young Sri Lankan batsmen are struggling to cope with their retirement from international cricket.
The numbers say it all. Since Jayawardene and Sangakkara bowed out of T20 International cricket after Sri Lanka won the World T20 title in 2014, the islanders have lost seven of 10 matches played in the format. The results are similar in One-Day Internationals too – they have lost two of their three series since the retirement of the two former captains after the World Cup last year.
The last few weeks in particular have been interesting. Or depressing, if you’re a Sri Lankan fan. Jayawardene has made four half-centuries and one century across the Big Bash League and the Masters Champions League, while Sangakkara hit four consecutive half-centuries in the MCL before shifting to the Pakistan Super League.
All this, while the highest score by a Sri Lankan in the three-match T20I series against India was just 35.
It is no secret that Sri Lanka are struggling to handle the transition, especially in the batting department. It has been worsened by the injury to Angelo Mathews. A lot depended on Tillakaratne Dilshan, but the experienced opener fell in the first over of both matches he played in, managing only one run in two innings combined.
Sri Lanka needed someone from Niroshan Dickwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Milinda Siriwardana and Dasun Shanaka to step up, but no one did. Only Dinesh Chandimal and Chamara Kapugedera showed a semblance of fight while the rest surrendered meekly.
The most notable aspect of their batting has been that not a single batsman has shown the willingness to fight it out when the going got tough, as was evident in the third game where they were shot out for their lowest T20I score of 82.
“We’ve got an inexperienced team. When we lost wickets, they (young batsmen) didn’t know how to stay there and get some more runs. We struggled with that,” assessed Chandimal, standing in as captain for the injured Lasith Malinga, after the Visakhapatnam T20I.
But while the batting has evidently struggled, some of the younger bowlers showed promise. Kasun Rajitha and Shanaka engineered a memorable win in the first match in Pune, while Dushmantha Chameera has impressed with his pace and subtle variations.
The attack will look much better as and when Malinga and Mathews return – something they desperately need at this stage.
“When Angelo and Malinga come back, there will be more experience within the group,” Graham Ford, the coach, told Wisden India last week. “For now, it is a different feel. We’ve played some exciting cricket with this young group but there will be days where the inexperience might cost us.
“This is the start of a rebuilding phase. It’s a big challenge for Sri Lankan cricket right now. We want to get back to where Sri Lanka was. Everybody is aware that there’s a lot of talent in the island. It’s up to everyone involved to rebuild the national side to where it was. The plan is more of a long-term one. We have to identify who the real talented players are and work with them. That might take a little bit of time. It’s not just T20. We have to identify talent for the longer formats as well. It’s a long process ahead for us. Nobody can say how long it will take.”
As Ford says, it’s not easy to predict when Sri Lanka will be a big force again. But given that the Asia Cup and the World T20 are not too far away, the defending champions of both tournaments are clearly running out of time.
“When we left Sri Lanka, we told ourselves that this little tour would be an indicator as to how far back we are, or how far we have to go,” Ford had said.
The little tour has clearly shown that Sri Lanka have a long way to go. A long-term solution for Sri Lanka’s woes will take a lot of hard work; the only quick fix seems to be the return of Mathews and Malinga.