The unfancied Sri Lanka will commence their Champions Trophy campaign with a challenging fixture against a determined South African side led by AB de Villiers.
Ahead of this game, Sri Lanka will only hope of getting off to a positive start after an unimpressive time in the recent past.
There is not much to talk about them. A few consider them as the dark horses but they have very little repute currently to even justify that tag. Their current form and injury woes have pushed them back to bothersome situation coming into the tournament.
The group in which they find themselves is no less that a ‘group of death.’ Apart from South Africa, Sri Lanka will be facing India and Pakistan in order to qualify for the semi-finals. The task seems very tough, given the shape the entire team is in.
The upcoming game against South Africa will just be the start of a highly competitive time ahead in the tournament.
It would be wrong to say Sri Lanka has come with an inexperienced team. It just a case of whether they would be able to churn out collective performances or not.
Lasith Malinga, who recently made a comeback against Bangladesh in the home series, will be leading the pace attack along with Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Kulasekara. In between themselves, they have an exposure of 452 matches with the least experienced one being Nuwan Pradeep who has just 17 games to his credit.
It won’t be wrong to expect these men to surprise the opposition. But, doubts concerning whether they perform as a unit still lingers. This happens to be their biggest weakness participating in a competition which is expected to be the most batsmen friendly ICC event ever.
Batting wise, the hopes lay on names like Kusal Mendis, Aseala Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Perera. They get into a rhythm, the team can breathe when facing their opposition. Another player to watch out for will be chinaman Lakshan Sandakan.
Coming to the match day, the biggest concern at the moment will be the fitness of skipper Angelo Mathews. It is almost certain that the 29-year-old will miss the opener due to his hamstring which has been troubling him since January. His unavailability would mean that not only Sri Lanka will be without their skipper but also lose a bowler and batsman.
Vice-captain Upul Tharanga will mostly take over the leadership mantle in his absence.
Sri Lanka lost both their warm-up matches before the tournament, lost one match out of the two practice fixtures against Scotland. Their most recent bilateral ODI series against Bangladesh, which was played at home, ended in a draw. They also received a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of South Africa in February.
To conclude, Sri Lanka is currently not in the best shape as far as the ODI format is concerned.
The inform Upul Tharanga and attacking Kusal Perera will open the innings. Kusal Mendis will be operating at the crucial No.3 position. The middle order will have Dinesh Chandimal, wicket-keeper Niroshan Dickwella and all-rounders, Aseala Gunaratne and Thisara Perera (considering Mathews as injured). Seekuge Prasanna may play as the spin bowling all-rounder if the skipper opts to keep chinaman Sandakan out of the XI.
The presence of seam bowling all-rounders would mean that Sri Lanka will likely have a three-man pace attack featuring Lakmal, Kulasekara and Malinga.
Here is the XI: Upul Tharanga (C), Kusal Perera, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella (WK), Aseala Gunaratne, Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan /Seekuge Prasanna, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga.