Just when Sri Lanka had a t20 team that could prove as a blueprint to others, they’re looking set to take it back five years by ignoring the formula for t20 success these days. Sri Lankan chief selector, Ashantha de Mel told ESPNCricinfo that his team needed more “strong hitters who can clear the boundary successfully” and seemed to imply that Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Matthews weren’t bi g enough hitters.
Way to miss about a century’s worth of evolution in the t20 format. Back in 2003 when the format made its domestic debut in England’s Twenty20 Cup, teams were unsure of how to approach it, most batsmen seeing it as an opportunity to have a slog at every ball, and most bowlers seeing it as a way to ruin their figures.
In just nine years that’s changed significantly. Bowlers are now being discovered in t20, where the ability to keep pressure on is invaluable, batsmen are learning that rotating the strike is important, and even though it’s just twenty overs, so is keeping wickets in hand.
Just look at West Indies’ win in the World t20 final, they were just 32 for two after ten overs. It was a poor start, but they hadn’t panicked, if they had they might have lost several more wickets, and not given Marlon Samuels the chance to make a competitive, and in the end match-winning target.
Sri Lanka’s strategy after losing early wickets may have been the same, but it didn’t come off for them on the day. Adding two or three inexperienced power hitters like Dilshan Munaweera wouldn’t have necessarily given them a better chance.
All the stats show that classy batsmen are the best in T20 cricket. Out of the ten highest averaging players in T20Is, eight are successful Test batsmen, showing how important class can be if you combine it discerningly with a bit of power at the right times. That list includes no Sri Lankan batsmen, but both Jayawardene and Sangakkara average 30 or over and have healthy strike rates.
By all means, add some power hitters down the order, but Sri Lanka’s top three are as good as any in the T20 game, adding Dilshan to the aforementioned players. The problem is players like Lahiru Thirimanne, whose part in the World T20 was puzzling, as a specialist batsman, batting up and down the order, scoring 27 runs in 4 innings, yet playing all seven games.
His place could be taken by another bowler, allowing Sri Lanka to play Herath and Dananjaya alongside Mendis, or by an all-rounder, both of those solutions would balance the team more. Even if they replace Thirimanne with another batsman, they need to add someone who can bat at four, someone classy, the sort of player who has been a success in the longer forms of the game. They might not be able to find that player, but that’s what they should be looking for.