Though the start to the series with wins in the T 20 games was the plan for Sri Lanka a defeat in the opening game of the ODI series was completely outside the realm of things. I am sure it was both a shock and a disappointment for Sri Lanka to go down by 7 wickets in the first ODI particularly after the fantastic showing in the T 20 series.
There were a few factors for the defeat. First and the most obvious one was the bad batting display and the shot selection. Jeevan Mendis was perhaps the only exception as he was done by a beautiful Yorker. The rest cannot have the same excuse. Had it not been for the Randiv and Kulasekera stand, the Lankans would have been embarrassed, though the final tally of 191 all out was well short of what Dilshan wanted when he won the toss. Another factor was the disciplined bowling of the Australians. Johnson was in great rhythm and did vary his pace efficiently catching the batsmen napping and the Lankan top order had very little to offer. The batting of Shane Watson who has matured so much and is an absolute power hitter was yet another factor in the final outcome.
The Sri Lankan top order after the confident opening stand simply folded up in an inexplicable manner and the Australians were never really stretched at all which was a shame though the pitch and the outfield were in very good shape. Looking at the Sri Lankan batting line up, I am a strong believer that having the best three batsmen in the top four could be detrimental. Whilst critics may argue that one should always have your best batsmen batting as early as possible, the scenario the Lankans are in doesn’t warrant it. If you take away the top four in the batting line up the Lankans fielded in the game, there was only Mathews who had any sort of experience. Jeevan Mendis and Chandimal are very fresh on the scene and after them the batting looked very thin.
So in the situation which precisely happened in the first ODI, the Sri Lankans had very little chance to pull through. My suggestion is to have Chandimal bat at number three and then Sangakkara, Jayawardane and Mathews! This would help Sri Lanka some opportunity to manage a possible collapse using the experience of Jayawardene and Sangakkara. The return of Upul Tharanga too is crucial as opening with Jayawardene and Dilshan, was as risky as the situation I have dwelt on. I accept the fact that issues such as this would be discussed only when things go bad, but if we don’t have some allowance for such situations one could be caught on the wrong foot.
So ideally it is important that the batting order is managed properly by the Lankans to overcome the Aussie onslaught and also to look at dismissing Watson early. The spin factor which is going to be the key in determining the final outcome is another area Sri Lankans will have to keep a close eye on. Ajantha Mendis’ rise was remarkable. It was the Mendis of old in the T20 game with the Aussies completely bewildered. In the ODI game the Aussies still struggled to pick him but the fact that they had very few runs to chase gave them the luxury of negotiating Mendis. Dilshan’s decision not to bowl Mendis his full quota in a losing cause wasn’t a bad idea at all. I am sure the less Aussies see Mendis it will be better for Sri Lanka as I am convinced Mendis’ mystery could be very well used against the Aussies. Besides, Mendis all rounder Randiv too needs all the encouragement and confidence. He is an asset a team would want to have. A player who could make his presence felt in all three forms of the game. In general Sri Lanka can boast of very handy spinners when you bring in Herath into the equation along with the part timers Dilshan and Jeevan Mendis.
On the subject of Dilshan I think we have said enough of his hundred. It was one of the most thrilling and attacking innings. I watched him with awe the way he went to his hundred in the last over of the match. It was sensational stuff! Besides his batting another aspect that impressed many was his captaincy. In the 2nd T20 game which was very close, Dilshan’s handling of the bowlers was brilliant. He did read the situation in the manner a good captain would do and always had the right bowlers on at the right time. Surely he has improved with every game in this department and hopefully will keep getting better.
Besides Dilshan and Ajantha the other stand out performance was from Jayawardene in the 2nd T20 game. Batting all by himself when wickets kept crumbling Jayawardene showed the world of his class. His innings really tilted the balance in the end which complimented Mendis to bowl the way he did. Jayawardene is such a gifted batsman that his poor shot in the ODI game would have disappointed him immensely. After those quick wickets of the openers Sri Lanka wanted Jayawardene and Sangakkara to kick on which unfortunately never happened and this was one of the main reasons for the batting collapse. Had the pair negotiated the Aussie bowling Sri Lanka could have looked at a decent score in the region of 250 plus, which was I thought a winning score at Pallekele. Also a pertinent question is are the Sri Lankans yet in the T 20 mould? Some of the shots and the urgency seem to suggest that. Let’s not forget that the Australians are a vastly different side with the inclusion of skipper Clark, Ponting and Hussey. The Australian batting which lacked the muscle in the T20 games is definitely back with the experience of the trio. Hence the Lankans will have to be at the top of their game when they play Aussies again.
Besides the importance of runs on the board, I am a strong believer that the current Lankan strategy of spin should be perused with as that is the most logical way to overcome the Aussies. A comparison of spinners on either side shows that Sri Lanka has match winners in their ranks whilst the Aussie spinners could be termed adequate. But the big requirement as stressed earlier is to have the batsmen switched on and to have the runs on the board for the spinners to attack. One can’t always only blame the bowlers without the batsmen chipping in. I am confident that the Lankans posses the required fire power to win the series despite the first loss. The question is how effectively will they use it?