Injury-hit Sri Lanka turn to resilience after challenging World Cup 2023 build-up
Squad: Dasun Shanaka (c), Kusal Mendis (vc), Kusal Perera, Pathum Nissanka, Lahiru Kumara, Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Kasun Rajitha, Matheesha Pathirana, Dilshan Madushanka, Dushan Hemantha.
Best finish at the tournament
Led by the inspirational Arjuna Ranatunga, Sri Lanka took the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 1996 by storm, playing a brand of cricket that defied convention at the time.
Central to their success was the opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, who capitalised on the initial 15 overs of fielding restrictions to leave opposition teams reeling.
Sri Lanka topped the group stages after finishing with five wins, albeit two of those against Australia and West Indies as a result of forfeit with the two teams refusing to travel to the Island Nation citing security reasons.
Their batting prowess was evident as they comfortably defeated Zimbabwe and India by six wickets each. In a memorable group stage match against Kenya, Sri Lanka set a world record for the highest team score in ODIs with an astonishing 398/5, a record that stood until 2006.
The quarter-final against England saw Sanath Jayasuriya's blistering 44-ball 82 made chasing a target of 236 look effortless.
Their semi-final win was a controversial affair as it was the first-ever international game won by default. Sri Lanka batted first and set India 252 runs to win. India were 98/1 at one point before a collapse of epic proportions, starting with Tendulkar's wicket, reduced them to 120/8.
The angry home fans started hurling objects onto the pitch and play was halted for 20 minutes before eventually being called off with the match awarded to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka went into the final against Australia as the underdogs but Aravinda de Silva's all-round clinic brought Sri Lanka glory. With the ball, he accounted for the wickets of Mark Taylor and Ricky Ponting, finishing with figures of 3/42.
In response, Sri Lanka lost their fiery opener early but De Silva once again came to the team's rescue with 107* and was well supported by Gurusinha and Ranatunga as they romped home by seven wickets to get their hands on the coveted trophy for the first time.
Results in the last 10 ODI games
(Most recent first): L W L W W W W W W W
vs South Africa – 7 October, Delhi
vs Pakistan – 10 October, Hyderabad
vs Australia – 16 October, Lucknow
vs Netherlands – 21 October, Lucknow
vs England – 26 October, Bengaluru
vs Afghanistan – 30 October, Pune
vs India – 2 November, Mumbai
vs Bangladesh – 6 November, Delhi
vs New Zealand – 9 November, Bengaluru
vs South Africa
Sri Lanka play South Africa in their tournament opener in Delhi in a clash between two teams coming into the tournament with great form.
The encounter offers an exciting match-up between a Sri Lanka side brimming with talented tweakers and a South Africa team that has recently shown their capability of playing quality spin.
The Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi has traditionally favoured spinners but the short boundaries at the venue should offer a fascinating contest between bat and ball.
Historically, South Africa have had the upper hand against Sri Lanka in ODIs, with 45 victories to the Islanders' 33. However, the last time the two teams clashed, Sri Lanka emerged 2-1 victors in the three-match bilateral series at home in 2021.
Sri Lanka's last win over South Africa in a men's 50-over World Cup match dates back to 1992, giving them added motivation to break the 31-year drought in the opening encounter.
After a poor showing in their last ODI match – the Asia Cup Final against India where they were bowled out for 50 – a strong start in the World Cup is crucial for Sri Lanka to gain momentum in the long tournament ahead.
In the absence of star spinner Wanindu Hasaranga and ace pacer Dushmantha Chameera, Maheesh Theekshana will shoulder the responsibility of spearheading Sri Lanka's relatively inexperienced bowling line-up.
Although making his ODI debut in 2021, Theekshana is now the second-most experienced bowler in the Sri Lankan squad at the World Cup, earning the trust of captain Dasun Shanaka as a reliable go-to player.
The wily spinner has 44 wickets to his name at an average of 23.45 and an economy of 4.50 in 27 ODIs. The 23-year-old has also shown his adeptness in bowling inside the Powerplay, which could prove to be valuable in the Indian conditions.
Theekshana has been in terrific form this year and is among the top five wicket-takers, tied for third with Nepal pacer Karan KC on 31 wickets.
He also played a vital role in Sri Lanka's CWC Qualifier campaign, scalping 21 wickets in eight games en route to their journey to the showpiece event.
In conditions conducive to spin and bolstered by his Indian Premier League experience, Theekshana will provide Sri Lanka with a crucial edge due to his ability to exploit the pitches effectively at the World Cup.
Perhaps no other team in the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023 have been hit as badly by injuries with Sri Lanka missing out on their two frontline bowlers in Hasaranga and Chameera.
The absence of Hasaranga will be particularly felt, considering his crucial role in the lead-up to the tournament and recent record in other World Cups across formats.
Dasun Shanaka instead faces the challenging responsibility of marshalling an inexperienced bowling attack. However, their form leading into the tournament is a massive confidence booster for Sri Lanka, bar the forgettable blip in the final of the Asia Cup.
Sri Lanka enjoyed an impressive unbeaten streak of 13 consecutive ODI wins from June to September this year, with India being the only team to halt their run in the Super Four stage of the Asia Cup.
During that run, Sri Lanka went through the CWC Qualifier tournament unbeaten and also recorded victories against Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
With key bowlers missing, Sri Lanka will rely on their batting lineup to shoulder the bulk of the workload in the World Cup.
The Islanders possess a well-rounded batting unit – Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis and Kusal Perera will need to bring all their experience into play while Pathum Nissanka and Sadeera Samarawickrama bring much-needed exuberance to the side.
Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva and Charith Asalanka form the spine of the middle and lower order.
While the team hopes for their captain to regain his batting form, they will depend heavily on Dhananjaya de Silva's all-round prowess, especially as an additional spin-bowling option in the side.
Sri Lanka still boasts a formidable pace-bowling quartet in Lahiru Kumara, Dilshan Madushanka, Matheesha Pathirana and Kasun Rajitha but it's the potent spin-bowling duo of Theekshana and Dunith Wellalage that's expected to do all the damage.
Sri Lanka faces a challenging task at the World Cup, but the absence of undue pressure might work in their favour, as demonstrated by their performance at the Asia Cup last year.