Upul Tharanga, the current skipper, has some big shoes to fill. © Getty Images

Upul Tharanga, the current skipper, has some big shoes to fill. © Getty Images

Copping blows and responding with unpracticed swings to catch nothing but the wind is humiliating enough. Not knowing how or when to put up hands in reaction to a barrage of punches is just embarrassing.

Sri Lanka were neither fully prepared nor did they defend during the Test series. Not that India needed an amateur at the other end to show off their reach, tact and power, but it did help that their opponents barely guarded themselves against the onslaught. The result of the non-defiance was a 3-0 loss.

Inside a week of that one-sided walloping, the competitors will be back in the ring for a fresh set of battles with renewed hopes.

Sri Lanka face India in five One-Day Internationals, starting with the first bout in Dambulla on Sunday (August 20). The teams stay on for the second contest before heading out Pallekele for the next two clashes. The last ODI will be played in Colombo, which also is the fixture for the subsequent one-off Twenty20 International.

Teams (from)
Sri Lanka: Upul Tharanga (capt), Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Chamara Kapugedera, Milinda Siriwardana, Malinda Pushpakumara, Akila Dananjaya, Lakshan Sandakan, Thisara Perera, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lasith Malinga, Dushmantha Chameera, Vishwa Fernando.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Ajinkya Rahane, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shardul Thakur.

If history is taken into account, not just the immediate one, India hold the edge. In fact, the last time they lost a bilateral one-day series in Sri Lanka was way back in 1997. That memorable Sri Lankan victory, which came under the astute leadership of Arjuna Ranatunga, is one of only two times the hosts have defeated India in a series out of the six exchanges on the Emerald Isle. Coincidentally, Ranatunga was at the helm even in their maiden series win over India in 1993.

Not only did the former skipper’s dynamic leadership change the face of Sri Lankan cricket as far as their neighbours on the sub-continent were concerned, it also altered the world’s opinion of this tiny nation in the Indian Ocean.

Taking that into account, Upul Tharanga, the current skipper, has some big shoes to fill. No, he doesn’t have to win the World Cup like his predecessor did, not yet at least. For now, he just has to prove to himself, his side and his nation that cricket in Sri Lanka isn’t dead. Perhaps, just perhaps, in that moment of awakening, Tharanga and Co might upset their opponents, better described at this moment as a well-oiled machine.

In the wake of their dismal showing during the Test series, the critics feasted on a buffet of amateur errors from the Sri Lankans, but now the slates are cleared to make room for new slashes. To err is human, and Tharanga’s men are bound to make mistakes as they attempt to help Sri Lanka through this transitory phase.

Looking to return to the halcyon days without the greats that shouldered a bulk of the workload for nearly two decades does seem daunting at the moment, but if they do figure a way to keep their wits about themselves, they might just be able to crack the code.

Mind you, deciphering this code only means a clinical show. Though that is a step in the right direction, and one which may just put the zing back in the local Papare band’s routine, it doesn’t promise an upset. That would require more of a hacking unit than a few cheat codes.

While Sri Lanka were still grappling with injuries and figuring a way to put out a fighting squad for this series, India were already looking at the 2019 World Cup.

While Sri Lanka are still figuring a way to put out a fighting squad for this series, India are already looking at the 2019 World Cup. © Getty Images

While Sri Lanka are still figuring a way to put out a fighting squad for this series, India are already looking at the 2019 World Cup. © Getty Images

They ignored some proven performers like Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik and went in with a young crew. MS Dhoni is the oldest member of the squad, and even he’s there on notice. They gave R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav a break in view of managing their workload.

With the senior members out, it’s the rule of the young with the likes of Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah returning to the fore. Rohit Sharma, named vice-captain for this series, is also back. The Mumbaikar’s love for white-ball cricket, coupled with the agony of handling water boy duties during the Test series, might just mean more fodder for someone who already is among the most devastating forces in the 50-over cricket.

Sri Lanka, for their part, brought in a couple of uncapped players in Vishwa Fernando and Malinda Pushpakumara. Fernando, a left-arm seamer in the Chaminda Vaas mould, is 25, and Pushpakumara is 30. Not exactly young, but they would be raring to go and aid Tharanga in his want to give the local fans something, anything, to cheer about.

The good news is Thisara Perera and Milinda Siriwardena are back. Bad news: Nuwan Pradeep (hamstring tear) and Asela Gunaratne (broken thumb) are still out of commission.

That’s just how things are with Sri Lankan cricket at the moment. They can’t seem to take a step in the right direction. Truth be told, Angelo Mathews’s resignation as the skipper in the wake of their 2-3 loss to Zimbabwe doesn’t seem like one either. Perhaps spiraling out of control to rid the baggage of past is what this phase is.

But now is not the time for Sri Lanka to concern themselves with the past. That can do more harm than good. It is time for an eye on the immediate future, and then beyond. If, however, they are hard-pressed to revisit the days gone by, they may as well go as far back as 1996 and remember that they were once the champions of the world.