Due to the lack of international cricket in the first part of the calendar year for Sri Lanka, the national side would have been going into the ICC Champions Trophy woefully under-prepared. Around about the time that the preliminary squad was made public, the board also made the announcement that there would be a warm-up 50-over tournament for the Champions Trophy consisting of senior Sri Lankan players, players from Sri Lanka A and some players who perhaps did not fit into either category but who the selectors have in their minds for future SL duty. These players would be split into three teams; ‘Sri Lanka A’, ‘SLC Combined XI’ and ‘Rest of SL’, with the matches being played in Pallekele from the 12th to the 20th of May. Each side would play each other twice, with the top two sides playing one more time in a ‘final’. Here is a brief summary of how the tournament panned out:
- Match 1: Rest of SL beat SLC Comb. by 28 runs (D/L).
RoSL had arguably the strongest side with the likes of Lahiru Thirimanne, Dinesh Chandimal, Upul Tharanga, Thilina Kandamy, Chanake Welegedera, Shaminda Erangal and Rangana Herath. Herath aside (who took 4-74) the bowling really did not click, allowing the Combined XI to post 277, with Dimuth Karunaratne, Mahela Udawatte and Jehan Mubarak all posting decent scores. Rain meant that 195 would have been enough for RoSL and after starting poorly, a 125-run partnership between Thirimanne and Chandimal helped see them home.
- Match 2: Sri Lanka A vs SLC Comb. – match abandoned.
- Match 3: Rest of Sri Lanka beat Sri Lanka A by 58 tuns.
Nuwan Kulasekera’s 61 was not enough to help RoSL to a decent score as the A-team bowlers (including Suranga Lakmal, Ishan Jayaratne and Sekugge Prasanna) restricted their opponents to 204. The A-side carries a lot of promising young talent. Kithruwan Vithanage, Ashan Priyanjan, Tharindu Kaushal and Angelo Perera who many deem unluck to not be on the plane to England, were not enough to win this match as SLA were skittled for 146. Kulasekera wrapping up an all-round performance by taking 2-23 off 8 overs.
- Match 4: SL Comb. beat SL A by 7 wickets. Priyanjan’s 59-ball 51 helped the A side to 211. Sacithra Serasinghe took 3-34, taking top-order wickets to hinder SL A’s progress. Dimuth Karunaratne provided a timely reminder of his talents by scoring an unbeaten 109.
- Match 5: RoSL beat SL Comb. by 3 wickets. The President’s Trophy finally got a high-ish scoring match as Kaushal Silva provided a further reminder that SLC’s continuing omissions of him are an absolute sham by scoring 99. Mubarak weighed in with 54, Serasinghe with 38 and the big-hitting Dilhara Lokuhettige came in down the order with a 29-ball 35, Thirimanne and Chandimal were out cheaply and were not able to support Upul Chandana as he made 102 runs. Support from Dilruwan Perera and Chamara Kapugedera did provide support though as they scraped home with 2 balls to spare.
- Match 6: SL A beat RoSL by 139 runs. SL A posted the highest score of the tournament as a 224-run partnership between Ashan Priyanjan (136) and Angelo Perera (112) took the score from an ominous 79/4 to 303/5. RoSL’s bowling attack was hampered by Chanaka Welegedera injuring his foot in his 3rd over, meaning that he could take no further part in the match and put his CT13 participation in doubt. Kusal Mendis and Thirimanne apart, RoSL’s talented batting order once again did not fire as they were all out for 186 with Ramith Rambukwella taking 3-43. The result did not matter at this point for RoSL as they were already in the final.
- Match 7: SL Comb. beat SL A by 6 wickets. There was no 200-run partnership stand for the A side in this match as the Combined XI booked their place in the final by chasing down a paltry 176 with 92 balls to spare.
- Match 8: RoSL beat SL Comb. by 76 runs. No real surprises here as efficient bowling perofrmances from Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera bowled the Combined XI short of the 205 that Thirimanne and Kandamby had helped RoSL get to.
I don’t really know what to make of this tournament. Sure it would have provided some of the members of the CT13 squad some much needed match practice but on the other hand most of the major players are still in the IPL. The worst thing about that is that only Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga and Mahela Jayawardene regularly get games, Mahela not being in any sort of form to boot. SLC tried to bring the likes of Kusal Perera, Jeevan Mendis and those not involved in the latter stages back to SL. I’m not sure what the letter sent to the BCCI said but whatever it was, the all-knowing IPL officials did not think it deserved replying to.
There were some plus points though, Ashan Priyanjan showing a glimpse of his promise by scoring the second-most runs in the tournament, although 136 of his 187 runs came in one match. Kaushal Silva once again reminded the selectors that his constant exclusion from the national side is a failure on the part of the selectors to recognize one of the best batsmen on the domestic circuit and a damn handy wicket-keeper as well. He top-scored with 214 runs – the only player to cross the 200 run mark. Rangana Herath was the bowler of the tournament, but he was always likely to be up there. Sacithra Senanayake has had a pretty decent IPL and Herath had to put in his own claim for a place in the starting XI should Sri Lanka decide to go with one spinner.
With all the familiar names taking part in this tournament, there was a slim chance that it would throw up a surprise. That would turn out to be Dilhara Lokuhettige. Initially in the preliminary squad for the Champions Trophy, he took the joint top number of wickets and when Chanaka Welegedera’s foot injury ruled him out of CT13, the selectors opted for the 32 year-old Lokuhettige who last played ODI cricket for SL in 2005 and whose last appearance was the T20 series in Canada in 2008. The selection isn’t particularly surprising as the selectors have outlined their intent on going for the win in this tournament as opposed to just using it as a learning curve for the next generation which is perhaps why a bowler like Vimukthi Perera who took 6 wickets at 24.50 was overlooked. More surprising though was that Suranga Lakmal was overlooked as well despite taking 7 wickets. Lokuhettige probably will not feature all that much with Shaminda Eranga, Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekera already on the plane. Further pace bowling can be provided by Angelo Mathews and/or Thisara Perera if needed be -and that is not taking into account the chances of Sri Lanka going with two spinners, so it might just be a water-carrying brief for Lokuhettige unless injuries hit the pace department. He might get a game in one of the three warm=up games; the first of which is on the 30th of May vs Pakistan at Edgbaston. That will really provide a more accurate account of how ready this team is for the task in hand and whether this tournament has had any sort of effect at all.