What has left the side struggling is the fact it has still not been able to fill in the huge void left by two of its greats — Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
It has not won a bilateral series for over two years and the captaincy has repeatedly changed hands – more in desperation than anything else. With coach Chandika Hathurusingha and all-rounder Angelo Mathews failing to maintain a cordial relationship and veteran pacer Lasith Malinga’s miserable stint as skipper ending in 0-5 loss to South Africa earlier this year, the board President Shammi Silva was forced to hand over the captain’s baton to opener Dimuth Karunaratne.
Strengths: Malinga, sling-arm death bowling specialist, is still the go-to man. However, he isn’t that popular in the team, unlike in the Mumbai Indians squad. However, Sri Lanka has no choice but to bank on the 35-year-old pacer’s toe-crushing yorkers to get it across the line at crucial junctures. Malinga may have slowed down with age but his slingshot action and variations are still hard to pick. It was in full public view when he led Mumbai to its fourth Indian Premier League (IPL) title with a breathtaking final over recently. The only concern will be whether he is fit enough to bowl 10 overs at full throttle and with the same intensity.
Weaknesses: In a desperate move to bring about luck, experienced players such as former captain Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Upul Tharanga and Akila Dananjaya have been all side-lined in one go. Milinda Siriwardana, Jeffrey Vandersay and Jeevan Mendis are the replacements but they are coming into a high-profile tournament after long breaks.
Opportunities: The captaincy is nothing less than a baptism by fire for Karunaratne, but it also serves him with an opportunity to prove that he can rise up to the challenge. However, he is coming into the ODI format after a long sabbatical — four years to be precise. He was left in the cold for ODIs since the 2015 edition of the
ICC World Cup.
Threats: Clearly, these sweeping changes are an attempt to end a series of poor performances but there is very little doubt that it will be a struggle for the team to get past the group stage. Losing wickets in a heap has been a major worry for the Lankans. It will also be interesting to see with whom Karunaratne will be partnering with at the top — 21-year-old Avishka Fernando or Lahiru Thirimanne, who last played in 2017.