The Kennington Oval is a long way away from the Rangiri Dambulla International stadium, but London is where Upul Tharanga looked for inspiration.
It perhaps is the best the one-series-old Sri Lankan skipper can do, given how little he has from home to motivate his boys ahead of the first One-Day International against India on Sunday (August 20). Ironically, Tharanga wasn’t even part of Sri Lanka’s Champions Trophy squad.
In the eighth match of the Champions Trophy 2017, Sri Lanka put on a stellar show in pursuit of India’s 322 and came away with their highest successful chase. That was the only win Sri Lanka had in the entire tournament.
But more recently, they lost to Zimbabwe in an ODI series at home before surviving the one-off Test against the same opposition by the skin of their teeth. Then came India, and a 3-0 humiliation.
“The unfortunate thing is that we lost the series against Zimbabwe. We should try to play with confidence and the fact that we beat them in the Champions Trophy gives us lot of confidence. We can perform well. We lack consistency and that has been a big drawback for us,” said Tharanga in the pre-match conference on Saturday.
“We have got to forget the Test series and the mistakes we made. We are heading for a new format and all are looking forward. If we can do that, that’s the most important thing.”
Tharanga, who was made the full-time skipper after Angelo Mathews gave up the post in the wake of the Zimbabwe embarrassment, had handled the post in Mathews’s absence for a large part of this year. But there is only so much a skipper can do when a large chunk of the team is either injured or out of form. Four wins in 16 games this year is how it looks when things aren’t going your way.
“We did not play well to our strengths during the Test series. We have done well in ODIs in the last ten years. But the last 18 to 20 months has been a bit different. We have lacked confidence, that is the main thing,” explained Tharanga.
“Our fielding has been terrible too. We have dropped catches and consistency has been lacking. If you take the last series, our batting was good, but our fielding was a drawback and in the last game which we had to win our batting let us down.”
Tharanga couldn’t have said it better, but the crux of the matter isn’t that they lack the skills to be good fielders. The problem is in the fitness of things. The situation is so bad that the Sri Lankan government issued an ultimatum at the end of the Zimbabwe series.
In stark contrast to the Indian side, who are operating at Olympian-athlete levels, Sri Lanka’s cricketers don’t seem too concerned with the weight room. Of course, that doesn’t mean all the cricketers are packing the pounds and struggling to keep up with the fast-paced world of limited over cricket, but the bulk of them are. Tharanga cited injuries as the reason for their drop in fitness levels over the last couple of years.
“We have been working out without any change. The problem is the last two years we have had a lot of injuries. We are doing all the fitness and dieting and all that, but you can’t do anything when people break down during series,” he said.
Tharanga and Co need to stun India not only to win back the favour of their cricket-crazy fans but also to believe in themselves again. With the 2019 World Cup nearing, they’ll need to gather the pieces and attempt the rebuilding process. It doesn’t help that they haven’t qualified yet, but two wins in this series can fix that, and perhaps even more.