Like against Afghanistan in their World T20 opener, Graham Ford hopes that the Sri Lanka can bat around one senior batsman © AFP
Chris Gayle might be the world’s most-feared T20 batsman. He has scored more World T20 runs than anyone else still playing. But in their four most recent games against him, Sri Lanka have felt they cracked Gayle – his scores in those matches: 5,2,3 and 3.
Sri Lanka’s plans have revolved around Nuwan Kulasekara‘s bowling, but Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga and even two offspinners, have played a role. When Gayle opens, Kulasekara has taken the new ball to deliver back-of-a-length deliveries, which pitch on around leg stump, then move across the batsman, off the seam.
Mathews, also possessed of a good away-seamer to left-handers, has usually followed suit. The offspinners have often pitched it fuller, but have persisted with the leg stump line, and have turned the ball across Gayle’s body as well.
The result was not just a muting of Gayle, but four successive dominations of him. Kulasekara bowled 22 legal deliveries to Gayle in those games, has conceded only seven runs and taken his wicket twice. Against all bowlers, Gayle has mustered just 13 from 42 balls.
Though hot off his 47-ball ton against England, Gayle can expect a similar test in Bangalore, Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford said. Ford had been in charge during Sri Lanka’s march to the World T20 final in 2012, when they faced West Indies twice.
“We have put a few things in place against in the past,” Ford said. “In 2012 we did quite nicely against him. Whether that still works – we’ll find out. We’re certainly not going to be telling everybody what we did in those two games to keep him quiet. It’s something that we are aware of in our group. It’s certainly something we’ll be trying to do again in this game.”
Even if Gayle is trussed up at the top of the innings, however, Sri Lanka may be put under pressure by West Indies’ lower-order hitters, as they had been in that 2012 World T20 final. Sri Lanka’s chances have grown grimmer over the past few days, with Lasith Malinga forced to withdraw from the tournament.
“The loss of Lasith makes a huge impact,” Ford said. “One has got to be realistic. The management and selectors are aware that it’s a different side at the moment. With Lasith it’s not just his experience, but also his brilliant execution of skill. For so long he’s done that death-bowling role. For so long he’s been able to strike up front and then finish the innings off so well. Finishing the innings is so important for momentum, etc. Now we’ve got to find somebody to do that.”
Kulasekara has lately performed the death-overs role alongside Thisara Perera, but the pair have reaped mixed results. Against Afghanistan, Sri Lanka leaked 72 runs in the final six overs of the innings.
“But the group of lads that I’ve got – and the one thing I know about Sri Lankan cricket – is that they are great triers,” Ford said. “They are great workers. There are a couple of guys putting their hands up and saying: ‘I’ll do that job.’ With that sort of attitude I’m sure we can make something happen.
“I just love the attitude of this group. As a coach you have a feeling of confidence when you know you know you’ve got a really good attitude within the group.”
Among the other players now absent in comparison with the team Ford had coached in his first stint with Sri Lanka, are the old brains of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. While they were in the side, Sri Lanka established a reputation as one of the best tournament sides in the world. Though those players are gone, the men that remain from that era have retained that tournament know-how, Ford said.
“There have been some brilliant, brilliant Sri Lankan cricketers who were wonderful at adapting to the situation, passing on information, thinking on their feet and strategizing,” Ford said. “I think some of the senior men that are left in the system have learned a great deal from those that have left the group. There’s still some very smart heads left. It’s that kind of sharing information that’s crucial to adapting to conditions and situations. There’s a fair amount of that still going on.”
The senior group in the current side features Tillakaratne Dilshan, who had been Sri Lanka’s best batsman in their tournament opener against Afghanistan. Dilshan had been through something of a lean trot in recent weeks, even recording two ducks in the World T20 practice matches, but that doesn’t mean he was out of touch, Ford said.
“People sort of felt Dilshan was out of form, but the way he’s been playing in the nets – he’s been playing superbly. That night [against Afghanistan] he put on a masterclass. It was just about him getting going. In the practice games he got two really good deliveries. No batsman likes to miss out and not score, but I don’t think he was particularly worried, because he was playing well in the nets, and had made a good score in the last match of the Asia Cup. He knew he was going pretty well.”
Sri Lanka’s top order still appears vulnerable however, with the likes of Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne yet to make themselves reliable performers in the shortest format.
“It’s nice if an experienced player bats a long period and the younger players bat around him,” Ford said. “But I do believe the younger players can start to do the same things Dilshan did the other night.”
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo