Sri Lanka went into the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 as an unfancied side – they had a new ODI captain and a few players returning after long gaps – but left behind an indelible mark on the competition. They finished sixth, with four losses and two no-results, but their three wins included a stunning one against England – a result that immediately ensured the race for the semi-finals became infinitely more interesting.
The senior players came good, with Lasith Malinga and Angelo Mathews prominent among them, while Avishka Fernando ensured that there is something to look forward to in the future. Sri Lanka still have a lot of things to work on, but they made a start with their strides at the World Cup.
Positives to take home
Fernando's performance was arguably Sri Lanka's biggest takeaway. Though he played only four matches, the 21-year-old top-order batsman finished as his team's fourth-highest run-scorer. His four outings fetched him 203 runs at an average of 50.75, a strike-rate of 105.72, and included a best of 104 - his maiden century in ODIs and one of only two centuries by Sri Lanka's batsmen at the World Cup.
Sri Lanka's older brigade, namely Malinga and Mathews, also came good. While Malinga has wrapped up as a one-day cricketer, Mathews' return to form would please them. Mathews is an experienced player and arguably still has a few years left in him as a player. A fit and firing Mathews will lend stability and balance as Sri Lanka seek to build on their gains in the tournament.
Areas to improve
Bowling. But for Malinga, Sri Lanka's bowlers largely lacked incision. Among those to have sent down more than 20 overs in the tournament, Sri Lanka's bowlers managed a combined 30 wickets in 219.3 overs. To put it in perspective, Australia's Mitchell Starc alone has taken 26 wickets, in just over one-third those overs.
Partnerships. Only twice in the tournament did a Sri Lankan pair cross the 100-run mark. India doubled that with their opening partnership alone. On average, Sri Lanka managed 26.14 runs per dismissal. That equates to a team total of 261 all out - not quite a match-winning number.
Despite making isolated appearances, Fernando did enough to leave Sri Lanka with a sense of contentment as far as the future is concerned. Making his World Cup debut in that win against England, Fernando immediately left an impression, steadying Sri Lanka with 49 fast-paced runs to lift them from the depths of 3/2. He followed it up by winning the Player of the Match award in just his third game, with another briskly-compiled 104 that powered Sri Lanka to a match-winning 338. In a tournament of fleeting Sri Lankan performances, Fernando stood out and made a mark with his consistency.
01 June: v New Zealand, Cardiff Wales Stadium, Cardiff - New Zealand won by 10 wickets
04 June: v Afghanistan, Cardiff Wales Stadium, Cardiff - Sri Lanka won by 34 runs (D-L Method)
07 June: v Pakistan, Bristol County Ground, Bristol - Match abandoned without a ball bowled
11 June: v Bangladesh, Bristol County Ground, Bristol - Match abandoned without a ball bowled
15 June: v Australia, The Oval, London - Australia won by 87 runs
21 June: v England, Headingley, Leeds - Sri Lanka won by 20 runs
28 June: v South Africa, Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street - South Africa won by nine wickets
01 July: v West Indies, Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street - Sri Lanka won by 23 runs
06 July: v India, Headingley, Leeds - India won by seven wickets