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The ICC Trophy cricket tournament began last Thursday (on June 1). The first match the Sri Lankan team led by Angelo Matthews is to face was scheduled for Saturday (on June 03). However, since the Sri Lankan team is fielding several new faces, more responsibility, therefore, is upon more experienced players such as Captain Matthews, Lasith Malinga, Dinesh Chandimal and Upul Tharanga.

Prior to the Champions Trophy, Sri Lanka showed exemplary skill in batting on the English wicket surface during practice and training matches, where they notched over 300 runs each against the teams from Australia and New Zealand. Especially in recent times, the morale and self confidence and belief among the Sri Lankan batsmen have been at a low ebb because they had failed to score runs. The fast opening given by Upul Tharanga and Dinesh Chandimal during practice matches resulted in the team achieving a certain measure of stability, which in turn was a contributing factor with regard to middle order batsmen raising their game. There was a high probability that Dikwella would be the opening batsman supporting Tharanga. Dickwella, in a style all his own has put opposing bowlers in a spot of trouble with a range of strokes such as the sweep, the reverse sweep and the dilscoop, and thus has managed to come into runs quickly, which should be an asset and boon to the Sri Lankan team.

Dickwella participated in the practice match against Australia after being on the bench during the one day match tournament against Bangladesh following an injury. It is the view of many commentators that Dickwella’s aggressive batting could be a challenge to the opponents.

The faith placed in Dickwella for his performance on the English pitch is because of his good batting on the South Asian wicket.

As an experienced opening batsman, Upul Tharanga has notched up 5,929 runs in 201 one day matches and this includes 14 centuries (including two centuries during Champions Trophy matches) and 31 half-centuries.

In terms of the Champions Trophy, those with the most number of centuries, with three centuries each include South Africa’s Herschel Gibbs, India’s Saurav Ganguli and West Indies’ Chris Gayle.

Much faith has been placed in the young number three, Kusal Mendis owing to his good performance during the previous tour to England in 2014. Good support is expected from the top order for the Champions Trophy due to Upul Tharanga scoring 110 runs, Kusal Mendis scoring 57 runs and Dinesh Chandimal scoring 55 runs during the second practice match against New Zealand. Captain Matthews who scored 95 runs against Australia in the first practice match and was rested for the second match against New Zealand, too joining the top order of batsmen will boost the power of the top order batsmen and prove a challenge to the opponents.

Captain Matthews had stated that Asela Gunaratne and Chamara Kapugedara joining the middle order had raised the expectations higher. Asela was rested for the practice match against New Zealand after he scored 70 runs from 56 balls and remained not out in the practice match against Australia. Asela’s inning came in for high praise from Matthews because of his invasive building up of the inning through which he in turn managed to tame the bowlers.

However, even though the top order and middle order batsmen of the Sri Lankan team were able to successfully cross the 300 runs threshold against two powerful teams such as the Australians and the New Zealanders, including also in chasing the runs, it is evident due to the wins of Australia and New Zealand that we have not come near such yet. Therefore, it is clear that a challenge remains for the bowlers during the Champions Trophy.

A great risk has been taken by playing Lasith Malinga following a one and a half year hiatus from one day matches.

New Zealand cricketer Kyle Millers is at the forefront of those who have obtained the most number of wickets during the Champions Trophy tournaments. During the period from 2002 to 2013, he took 28 wickets in 15 games while the Sri Lankan pace bowler took 24 wickets between 1998 and 2009. However, Malinga’s skills are greater because between 2006 and 2013, he obtained 22 wickets in 13 games.

Malinga, following an injury joined the Mumbai Indians who won the ICC Trophy and therefore must be competing on the English wicket with much self-confidence and belief.
The record for the best bowling performance during an inning in the Champions Trophy tournament history is with Sri Lankan cricketer Farveez Maharoof who in 2006 took six wickets against the West Indies conceding only 14 runs. During the 2013 Champions Trophy, Malinga took four wickets from New Zealand at Cardiff whilst conceding 34 runs and in 2006 against the South African team in India, he obtained four wickets for 53 runs, and therefore if Malinga performs in such a manner this time, it will definitely be a headache for the opponents.

Former Sri Lankan Captain Kumar Sangakkara had previously highlighted that out of the eight teams participating in this year’s Champions Trophy, there was a high probability that the host English team, and the teams from India, South Africa and Australia would enter the final round.

However, Captain Matthews had stated that Sri Lanka not being named as a frontrunner for victory this time around was an advantage to the Sri Lankan team.

The Sri Lankan team bitterly lost five matches during the past tour at the hands of the South African team. Because of this, the Sri Lankan team has a good understanding about the opposing cricketers. It is believed that this may aid in the first match. South Africa went down 2-1 against England during a one day match series and tournament held recently. This too may prove an advantage to Sri Lanka as there is a view that the team that shows more skill on the day and minimizes mistakes would emerge victorious. The Sri Lankan team should attempt to approach each game with a good plan and strategy.
In a one day match it is important that in fielding, batting and bowling, exemplary skill is shown. Before going up against the Indian team and the Pakistani team, it is important that Sri Lanka wins the first match against South Africa as the victorious mindset would prove important moving forward. The Indian team enters the battle with the majority of the players having previously shown skills at the IPL matches. The Pakistani team enters the tussle with a majority of freshers and novices.

However, although England has been able to host the tournament thrice now, an English team has yet to win the Champions Trophy. Therefore the English team led by Ian Morgan, too, has placed much confidence in winning the Trophy this time around. The English team would be entering the tournament with a good mindset owing to the 2-1 one day match tournament victory notched up against South Africa. Another factor contributing to their self confidence would be the fact that Ben Stokes has been at the forefront of showing skills in terms of fielding, batting and bowling.

Sri Lanka hosted the Champions Trophy tournament in 2002 and in that year became co-Champions with India. However, the team at the forefront in terms of skills is the Australian team, having won the Trophy twice during the period from 2006 to 2009. Because all eight teams are highly skilled, a keen tussle can be expected, and it is certain that the spectators would get to witness a close battle. Before entering the final game on June 18, the battle to enter the final round begins from the first match itself because it would prove a great challenge to move ahead with match losses.