Sri Lanka have lost each of their five most-recent T20Is, but the team’s improved fitness standards, and its batting confidence – both of which were on display in the ODI whitewash of West Indies – should have a knock-on effect. This is what captain Lasith Malinga hopes anyway, as he attempts to correct a woeful captaincy record since taking over in late 2018.
“When you start winning matches, the bad things in our game seem to get erased, and the good things are noticeable,” Malinga said on the eve of the first T20I in Kandy. “That’s the situation now, which I’m happy about. Fitness wise, a bowler should be able to bowl four or five overs. And when a bowler goes to the middle, he should be able to complete that game without getting injured. We’ve seen that from our players now. They bowl, and they run hard, and they dive. Angie [Mathews] bowled 10 overs for the first time in years. Those things have improved. I’m sure it will continue. These are the results of many months of hard work. The new coaches have come in and helped with that.
Almost all the batsmen in Sri Lanka’s top seven made contributions during the ODI series, with Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis especially impressive, hitting one century and a fifty apiece. Thisara Perera and Wanindu Hasaranga also made good finishing contributions from lower down the order.
“If a team is to win, you need at least seven players playing somewhere near their best,” Malinga said. “We saw that in the ODI series – lots of great individual performances influenced the result. For a while we didn’t have batsmen who could get among the runs frequently enough, and they weren’t finishing games. But now their mentality has come good. I’m hoping they’ll keep playing well in the T20s.”
Malinga was also pleased with the trust shown in each of Sri Lanka’s players during the ODI series. Sri Lanka played all three matches with the same XI. This is rare.
“There’s a new coaching style here now,” Malinga said. “This is a time when players get to consistently play. Because of that consistency in selection, players have got self-confidence about their place in the team. I think over the next three to four matches we will get a team that is unafraid to take risks. That’s my hope.”
“The selectors and team management feel this is the best 15 T20 players in the country, so I don’t think it should be a big problem to give them matches consistently.”