Sri Lanka has been in disarray for a few years now, barring the occasional upsets and brief return to form, and their lead-up to this World Cup was no different. The squad seemed to be a random sample of players with no rhyme or reason to it, the captaincy was pot luck, and they still had the furore over their ball tampering – and attempts to cover it up – that hurt their team tremendously, with many feeling that they should have been punished as harshly as Australia’s Smith and Warner were, as it happened after the Australians were banned. They were ranked 9th but were 8th favourites to win, but many thought that they would finish the tournament without a win to their name.
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For them to win any games at all was a bit of a shock, and, while it doesn’t sound particularly exciting to beat Afghanistan, considering the position they were in it was massive. If they had lost that match, they probably wouldn’t have won any others, but the confidence they gained from that comeback was tremendous. It was a watershed moment for both teams as Sri Lanka effectively moved ahead of Afghanistan, not just with the win, but with the respective confidence of the two teams.
Their shock win against England was amazing too, especially in the circumstances where they had had two washouts in a row, England were widely expected to win the tournament and Sri Lanka were expected as a matter of course to lose badly. Sri Lanka were losing badly too, but then they came back hard. At no stage in the match did they look like they were going to win, right up until number 11 Mark Wood edged one behind to the keeper. Until then, from start to finish, England looked like they’d win. To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat like that was incredible, even more when they were one of the least favoured teams against the absolute favourite. The fact that it simultaneously nearly knocked England out while making it possible for themselves, and for Pakistan and Bangladesh, and enlivened the whole tournament, made it all the more exciting. It was the moment of the tournament.
Individually, Lasith Malinga came back to form in a big way, especially against England. Karunaratne was in good form too, at least in patches. We even had a rare bit of good form for Angelo Mathews.
Their collapse against Afghanistan, albeit rectified by their own bowling, was a problem, and, while they did beat England, other than that they were pretty horrible. Against South Africa, in a must-win game against a side who were already eliminated, they were horrible, and, other than their two wins, they were absolutely appallingly bad. Take their two wins out and they were the worst team in the tournament by far. Indeed, even just take out the phases where they did well, their match-winning comeback bowling efforts, and they were the worst team. Had they lost those two matches, they would have been easily the worst team in the tournament. It’s funny how great that W means to a team, but it didn’t even lead to any momentum.
Other teams who got on a roll capitalised but Sri Lanka didn’t. West Indies early, Bangladesh in the middle and Pakistan towards the end all went on rolls but not Sri Lanka. They just won and threw away any positives from it.
On all but their ladder position, Sri Lanka were the worst team in the tournament. The only positive out of that statement is that they were kind of expected to be.
It’s hard to be too critical of a team who had so little resources at their disposal. Sri Lanka need to rebuild as a team between now and 2023 and this World Cup didn’t really help that rebuilding – but nor did it hurt it. To come away from a World Cup when they were at the worst they’ve ever been and still have 2 wins and 6 points and be briefly a chance to make the semi-finals is a big deal. The fact that they were the worst team in the tournament is why their grade was as low as a D. It could have been worse, though.