x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Champions Trophy: Sri Lanka's old guard running out of time

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have one last chance to secure a trophy before retirement, says Paul Radley.

Kumar Sangakkara, right, and Mahela Jayawardene, left, have been stalwarts in the Sri Lanka team for over a decade. Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP Photo
Kumar Sangakkara, right, and Mahela Jayawardene, left, have been stalwarts in the Sri Lanka team for over a decade. Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP Photo

If recent history is a guide, Sri Lanka do not generally cope well with being in the last-chance saloon.

It is an odd quirk of major tournaments that the feistiest side in the international game suddenly turn submissive when it comes to finals.

Against Australia in the 2007 World Cup final in Barbados, they even agreed to play nice throughout the last overs of the competition albeit as a result of a botch by the officials that meant the game finished in the dark.

They were the best side at the World Twenty20 in 2009, only to subside in the final to a Pakistan team with whom they had showed so much solidarity earlier in the tournament, that they had stood shoulder to shoulder with them during the national anthems.

Then in 2011, they delivered under the weight of their own nation's expectations by reaching the World Cup final again, only to be consumed by India when they got there.

Kumar Sangakkara, the captain at the time, suggested that a country of Sri Lanka's size should be pleased with the fact they had reached the final. There was glory enough in that.

Yes, reaching the championship game was a fine achievement. But, be that as it may, Sri Lanka have been world champions before and they should aspire to do the same again.

They certainly have the talent for it, with arguably the most balanced side in the limited-overs game at present. But they need to cash in on it, pronto.

How many chances will Sangakkara, for example, have left to win a major title? Or any of their much-garlanded senior players? He is 35 years old, Mahela Jayawardene will be 36 next week, and Tillakaratne Dilshan is nearing 37.

If the Sri Lankans already struggle to cope with the pressure when they get to the latter stages of the big competitions, that will only be exacerbated if players feel it is their last chance.

"We've done pretty well on the big stage," said Angelo Mathews, the captain who will be tasked with managing the transition of the national team to the next generation.

"I can't really point out what went wrong in the finals and semi-finals, but we are hoping to better the performances which we have done in the past."

The form of the Sri Lanka players leading in to the Champions Trophy has been negligible, although the Indian Premier League is hardly a fail-safe guide.

Jayawardene, usually the canniest of leaders, ended up last with Delhi Daredevils, while the rest of the Sri Lankan exports were lukewarm.

Mathews, though, remains optimistic. "If you've done pretty well in the past World Cups, in the Twenty20s, I think we've got to a stage where we've done pretty well and lasted from there," he said. "So I think if we can get this right this time, it would be awesome."


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