KUSAL MENDIS TAKES OVER REINS IN PLACE OF INJURED DASUN SHANAKA
By Srian Obeyesekere
In a reality semi-final hope must win scenario from the brink of the precarious of two straight losses, tomorrow’s Sri Lanka versus Australia face off at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium, Lucknow is of two sides hell bent on breaking free from the shackles of defeat to keeping alive their world cup hopes. In that worse scenario, which of the two sides holds the edge to sounding the winning board is two dimensional whether Australia’s usually reputed batting mechanism will come good against a wanting Lankan bowling attack. The other being whether Sri Lanka’s batsmen will repeat the high totals they did in the previous two games against the Aussies. The Lankan batting will be tested by an Aussie attack which has the potential of bouncing back from the lows against India and South Africa.
While Sri Lanka carries the highs on the back of scores of 326 and 344 against South Africa and Pakistan to Australia scuttled out for 191 by India and 177 by the Proteas, however, the bugging problem the Lankans face is their bowlers conceding runs at an even higher rate 773 from 98.2 overs in two games at 7.86 runs an over. It meant even Kusal Mendis’ breathtaking century could not stave off Pakistan from recording the highest record run chase in world cup history.
In that scenario, pundits contend that the five times world cup winners whose batting has hit the lowest tournament average of 18.80 in that holocaust are in with their best chance of bouncing back against a wilting Lankan bowling attack.
While the bowling attack is cause for concern, the Lankans will be buoyed by the batting shine of 300-plus totals with the topping form of Kusal Mendis who has taken over the captaincy from an injured Dasun Shanaka ruled out of the rest of the tournament. Mendis has scored 356 runs from his last three innings including 158 versus Afghanistan in a warm-up, 76 off 42 versus South Africa and 122 off 77 versus Pakistan. Mandis has also averaged 50.33 from 11 innings against the Aussies. The upfront form of opening batsman Pathum Nissanka who got a 40 off and ton-up No.4 Sadeera Samarawickrama has certainly beefed up the top order though the form of opener Kusal Janith Perera who fell for 7 and a duck could mean the composed Dimuth Karunaratne could well earn a call up while consistency is looked to from the likes of Charith Asalanka and Dhananjaya de Silva down the line while young all-rounder Dunith Wellalage would bat at No7 followed by Chamika Karunaratne, called up as Shanaka’s replacement. As far as the bowling is concerned, Sri Lanka will depend on spin to dig at Australia’s weak area. When the two sides last met in 2022 Sri Lanka won 3-2.
The decisive clash will pit Kusal Mendis, cast in the big shoes job of carrying the mantle to meeting the challenge of leading from the front to defying the odds of the experts tipping Australia to win.
Kasun Rajitha is expected to replace the injured Matheesha Pathirana.
Sri Lanka squad: Kusal Mendis (C), Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Perera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya De Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dunith Wellalage, Chamika Karunaratne, Kasun Rajitha, Lahiru Kumara, Maheesh Theekshana, Dushan Hemantha, Dilshan Madushanka.
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (C), Steve Smith, Alex Carey, Josh Inglis, Sean Abbott, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Starc.