Before the ODI series against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka had a winless 2017 to look back uneasily upon.
In the lead-up to the Tests before that a whitewash in South Africa loomed in the rearview mirror. But ahead of today's first of two T20Is, the picture is quite different; two series wins in South Africa and Australia, against two of the strongest teams in the format.
So it was a quietly confident Upul Tharanga, captaining Sri Lanka in the continued absence of regular skipper Angelo Mathews, who took his place behind the microphone at the pre-match press conference yesterday. “We beat South Africa in South Africa and Australia in Australia. They were top teams at the moment in the T20 format. We are in good shape in the T20s.”
Sri Lanka have a fount of experience to look forward to, especially in the bowling ranks. “With players like Lasith [Malinga] coming back, and [Nuwan] Kulasekara, Thisara [Perera] and [Chamara] Kapugedara there, we have a very good, balanced side.”
The four players mentioned have a combined 216 T20I matches between them. There are young players too in the likes of Shehan Jayasuriya, Kusal Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Dasun Shanaka and Vikum Sanjaya. But the youngest among them is Sanjaya at 25 years of age. While T20Is are a format teams often use to experiment and blood youngsters, Sri Lanka seem to have gone the other way in an attempt to take the decisive edge on Bangladesh's tour which has so far seen drawn Test and ODI series.
“Both teams want to win this series because the other two series were drawn. We want to win both games, because we've done well in the recent past in T20s,” said Tharanga.
The surprise in Sri Lanka's squad is the exclusion of Kusal Mendis, who has been in great form against Bangladesh. His record is sketchy in T20Is, but Bangladesh can be expected to breathe a sigh of relief at his exclusion.
“He's playing Tests and ODIs really well. In T20s though he hasn't been that successful,” explained Tharanga. “The Champions Trophy is coming, and hopefully he'll be in a good mental state for that. If we give him a break here, he can concentrate on the longer formats, and we can get more out of him there.”
Tharanga thought that the team's strong finish in the ODIs, winning the third ODI by 70 runs and squaring the series, will give them confidence.
“We have to take strength from the way we played the last ODI, and especially the way we fielded there. On the batting front, we've got to be consistent in getting those runs as well, and that has to carry over to the T20 format. In Australia we've chased 170-odd as well. Even here, if we can get and chase 180 -- scores like that -- that would be the best thing,” the Sri Lanka skipper added.