Last Updated: 26/05/19 5:09pm
Victorious in 1996, back-to-back runners up in 2007 and 2011, yet Sri Lanka seem the true underdogs at this year’s World Cup.
It has been a truly chastening 12 months for the South Asian team, who have failed during that period to win a series against any of the teams they will face over the next four weeks.
A sea of changes has seen Dimuth Karunaratne parachuted in as captain for this tournament, despite not having played a one-day international since the 2015 World Cup.
England vs Afghanistan
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Previous skipper Dinesh Chandimal, wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella and promising seamer Dushmantha Chameera have been axed, bearing the brunt for the team’s poor form.
A re-modelled bowling action for spinner Akila Dananjaya has seen his effectiveness with the ball wane, leaving Jeffrey Vandersay to be brought in as the only specialist spinner in the side – despite only having 10 one-day international wickets to his name.
It is a team, filled with youth and shock call-ups, that seems as chaotic in make-up as Sri Lanka’s build-up to the competition has been.
Alhough Sri Lanka sit ninth in the current International Cricket Council’s (ICC) ODI rankings, with Afghanistan one place lower, they came undone against Gulbain Naib’s side in the Asia Cup in late 2018, losing both of their group matches as they failed to make the knockout stages.
With no associates in the 10-team World Cup for the first time, the Lions look in danger of being the side with the wooden spoon.
Karunaratne offers hope
Often the unlikeliest of teams can cause huge shocks in a World Cup and their newly installed skipper Karunaratne could galvanise Sri Lanka to do just that.
It was the 31-year-old’s impressive outing as Test captain in South Africa, where his side completed a shock 2-0 victory away from home, that saw him become the top candidate for the World Cup job despite his lack of recent international 50-over cricket.
Given the unique make-up of the side – it features five players who had not played ODI cricket in at least 18 months – leadership will be key.
Especially since Sri Lanka have a terrible record in World Cups that have been hosted on English soil, failing to move past the group stages on the four occasions it has been played in this country.
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But, after Joe Root’s side had completed their first ever 3-0 Test whitewash away in Sri Lanka, many had written off the team’s chances of securing a result when they travelled to face the Proteas in February.
Although it was a different format, the fact Karunaratne was able to steward his players to first a narrow one-wicket win in the first Test and then an easier eight-wicket victory in the second Test was no small feat.
And, with the underdog status attached to the team once more and few expecting much, their captain will hope to emulate the powers he wielded back in February.
Consecutive half-centuries against Scotland and South Africa in 50-over matches during the build-up to the World Cup would have boosted his own confidence with the bat – despite Sri Lanka falling to a heavy defeat in the latter.
Malinga holds key for bowling unit
At the opposite end of the scale, Sri Lanka’s bowling unit look likely to be heavily reliant on their veteran seamer Lasith Malinga.
He was, of course, the man to make way as captain for Karunaratne after overseeing a demoralising 5-0 ODI series loss to South Africa in February.
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Questions were raised over Malinga’s potency with ball but he remains the only bowler to take a hat-trick in two separate World Cups – achieving the feat in both 2007 and 2011.
Malinga remains capable of searing spells, albeit less regularly than he managed in his peak, and he sent England’s top-order into a tailspin in Dambulla last October when he claimed his eighth ODI five-wicket haul.
An impressive outing for this year’s Indian Premier League champions Mumbai Indians also helped his cause – Malinga picked up 16 scalps, including two four-wicket hauls.
With three spinning all-rounders included within Sri Lanka’s 15-man squad, Malinga will be looked upon to spearhead their attack.
Fellow pace bowlers Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal will also hope to form part of a potent seam attack if their team are to compete over the next four weeks.
Sri Lanka boast plenty of World Cup pedigree from years gone by and perhaps the unknown qualities in their current side can help revive the glory of the past.
You can watch every match of the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup on Sky Sports Cricket, starting with England vs South Africa at The Oval on Thursday, May 30.