On the eve of the World Cup, there’s still time for a tune-up fight or two for a former champion as they gear up for the main event. In one corner, wearing purple and gold trunks, stands the Associate annihilator. Across the ring in the other corner, wearing plaid blue and white, stands the Associate on the rise.
Arguably no Full Member has feasted on global cricket’s second-tier opposition more than Sri Lanka. The unorthodox styles of their various talents often pose an unsolvable riddle for Associates. It has meant Sri Lanka has especially enjoyed their fill when raiding European shores.
Before new-age England made 400 totals passe in their drive towards 2019, Sri Lanka’s total of 443 for 9 against Netherlands at Amstelveen in 2006 stood as the ODI benchmark for more than a decade. Swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction, they humiliated the same opposition at the 2014 World T20 by bowling them out for 39.
They continued to show no mercy against Ireland on a visit to Malahide in 2016 by sprinting to 377 to close out a 2-0 sweep. The likes of Seekkugge Prasanna made up for lost time by striking 95 off 46 balls having entered the day with 193 runs in 23 career ODI innings.
But they arrive in Edinburgh having lost eight straight ODIs, including a 5-0 sweep at the hands of South Africa. If traditions are made to be broken, then Scotland helped end the wretched run for Associates against Sri Lanka with a seven-wicket win in an unofficial warm-up at Kent in 2017 leading into the Champions Trophy.
After two decades of futility against Test nations, that win became a catalyst to galvanise Scotland’s playing group into seeing themselves as serious contenders. It gave them the belief that they no longer have to hope heavyweight opposition shows up overweight and out of shape to be vulnerable enough for a sucker-punch.
Scotland’s players know that not only can they stand toe-to-toe and absorb a few stiff shots to the jaw or the ribs, but they have an incredibly effective jab and the ability to score points via power combos of their own through stinging uppercuts, crosses and hooks. They aren’t afraid to stand in the middle of the ring and trade punches with a bloodied and bruised opponent, to wear them down and go all 12 rounds if not knock them down to the canvas. Just ask Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and a No. 1 ranked England.
Though Netherlands claimed the WCL Championship and a spot in the 13-team ODI Super League beginning next year, it is Scotland who have made an even more compelling case over the last two years to become the 13th Full Member by virtue of their sustained competitiveness against Test nations. That feistiness was on display once again last week in a two-run loss on DLS to Afghanistan. In fact, a win over Sri Lanka will tick off one of the ICC’s defined criteria for applying for Full Membership: having three wins in ODIs or T20Is over top-10 ranked opposition inside 24 months.
That run of form since 2017 has put ringside seats in hot demand. Cricket Scotland announced on Thursday that the malleable capacity at The Grange, capped at 1500 with temporarily imported stands for this series, had sold out for the first ODI. The Stockbridge faithful and a loyal Sri Lankan traveling fan troupe await the ding-ding-ding of bat on ball to signal the opening bell.
Scotland LWLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first) Sri Lanka LLLLL
n the spotlight
A former MCC Young Cricketer, wicketkeeper Matthew Cross had been simmering with the bat for several years before a breakout 106 not out as part of a 201-run opening stand with Kyle Coetzer in the seven-wicket warm-up win over Sri Lanka in 2017. He followed it with his maiden ODI ton last year, then another against UAE at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. Though Kyle Coetzer gets most of the plaudits at the top of the order, Cross remains a threat.
Few players at the forthcoming World Cup find themselves in as strange a position as Dimuth Karunaratne. Not part of Sri Lanka’s ODI side since the 2015 World Cup, he has been parachuted in as an emergency captain, following eight successive losses under Lasith Malinga. He must now not only band together a struggling team, but also prove his own worth in the XI. Whether the selectors made the correct choice in installing him as captain remains to be seen, but he will feel a lot better about his leadership if he can produce runs at the top of the order.
Scotland vice-captain Richie Berrington suffered a broken left pinky in the field after making unbeaten 170 off 145 balls on Monday playing for Western Warriors in Scotland’s domestic 50-over competition. Dylan Budge has been drafted into the squad but Berrington’s slot will more likely be a toss-up between specialist batsman Michael Jones or Michael Leask’s all-round package.
Scotland XI (possible): 1 Kyle Coetzer (capt.), 2 Matthew Cross (wk), 3 Calum MacLeod, 4 Michael Jones, 5 George Munsey, 6 Craig Wallace, 7 Tom Sole, 8 Mark Watt, 9 Alasdair Evans, 10 Safyaan Sharif, 11 Brad Wheal.
It’s difficult to pin down Sri Lanka’s exact XI, but Lasith Malinga has not yet arrived in Scotland, having played in the IPL final last Sunday, giving an opportunity for some of the medium pacers to make a final argument for being in the first choice World Cup starting XI against New Zealand at Cardiff on June 1.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt.), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne/Avishka Fernando, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Kusal Perera (wk), 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Suranga Lakmal, 10 Jeffrey Vandersay, 11 Nuwan Pradeep.
Pitch and conditions
Regardless of the finish being decided by Duckworth-Lewis, Scotland’s first innings total of 325 looked below par in the loss to Afghanistan last week and the pitch may force bowlers to toil once more. The forecast is calling for rain in Edinburgh from midnight until 1 pm on match day, though the drainage at the Grange is excellent so the probability of completing a reduced-overs match is high.
Stats & Trivia
Dimuth Karunaratne is one of the few players to have been in the XI on Sri Lanka’s last visit to the Grange in 2011. Both he and Mahela Jayawardene made half-centuries opening the batting in Sri Lanka’s 183-run win.
The only other official ODI between the sides was at the 2015 World Cup, which Sri Lanka won by 148 runs.
Calum MacLeod needs 47 runs to become the second Scotland batsman to cross 2000 runs in ODIs. Captain Kyle Coetzer became the first during his 79 last Friday against Afghanistan.
“I think the thing we remember most about the match is the style of cricket we played. We talked about being aggressive with the ball and bat, stamping our authority on the game. It kind of kickstarted from there for everything that followed that so it was quite an important day in Scottish cricket.” – Scotland wicketkeeper Matthew Cross reflects on the impact of their 2017 win over Sri Lanka
“We had a bad year for one-dayers but I think we did really well in the Test series. In South Africa, the major thing was team spirit. We played together. There was no senior-junior things. We played 11 as a team. So that sort of thing I want to get into the one-day side as well.” – New ODI captain Dimuth Karunaratne on trying to end Sri Lanka’s eight-match losing streak