Kumar Sangakkara, in Sunday Times, 7 July 2019, with this title “Sri Lanka — near yet too far from the CWC semis”
So, Sri Lanka’s World Cup journey has ended without qualification. Few predicted they would reach the semi-finals and their final mid-table position represents a decent performance in the circumstances. Nevertheless, it was ultimately a disappointing campaign. In hindsight, it feels like we could and should have done better and could have competed harder for the fourth qualification spot secured by New Zealand. Sri Lanka were dogged by the inability to balance out the side with a specialist spinner, injuries, and the presence of players with no or little ODI experience within 18 months of the World Cup.
The batting unit, until the West Indies game last week, seemed incapable of building the kind of imposing totals you need to win games consistency. We had some decent top order starts, but promising partnerships were not converted into match-winning ones and the middle order was weak.
Sri Lanka did show glimpses of fight and brilliance. There was a valiant bowling effort to beat Afghanistan, inspired brilliance to beat England, and then they held their nerve to beat West Indies.
The standout performers have been Lasith Malinga and, later on when given the chance, Avishka Fernando. Kusal Perera was steady in support, but couldn’t really go on to score big hundreds. But to be fair, no one apart from Avishka did score a century.
Avishka Fernando looks a class act. He has a great head position allowing him fluency on the back and front foot and he plays on both sides of the wicket with equal ease and competence. He has a lot of time for his strokes and an instinctive pull shot that’s rare for Asian batsmen.
There is now a lot of rethinking and rebuilding that has to be done after the World Cup. The selectors must identify the core of the side around which the next World Cup team will be built and then allow those players the time and exposure to develop not just as players but also as a unit.
The final week of a long group phase saw England regain their mojo after a mid-tournament wobble with two powerful performances against India and New Zealand. They will approach their semi-final next week – probably against India – with confidence. Crucial to them was the return of Jason Roy at the top of the order. Although not 100 per cent fit, he gave Jonny Bairstow the confidence to play his preferred attacking game and their opening combination gave England a solid platform in both wins.
New Zealand were in the end quite fortunate to qualify with their net run rate and also the weather both working in their favour. They started the tournament very impressively, but then petered out with some lacklustre and unimaginative performances, especially against England and Australia.
Pakistan will consider themselves unlucky with the weather, but they paid for their inconsistency. They pushed hard at the end of the tournament, and showed along the way they were capable of beating any opponent, but unfortunately for them they missed out by the slimmest of margins.
Bangladesh also had some bright moments in this tournament with Shakib Al Hasan the clear stand-out performer. He was exceptional with the bat. They also challenged for qualification and return home with their heads held high.
We were left with two mouth-watering semi-final clashes this week. Difficult to say who the favourites are at this stage given its now knock-out cricket. England will be buoyed by home support, India have a really balanced team, and Australia have been impressive since the start.
All eyes will be on the toss, especially in the England game as they have a clear preference batting first. With the weather heating, this is likely to be the preferred strategy of all teams and I expect that trend to continue.