Cast your mind back to February 2013 at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.
Sri Lanka were playing England in the second match in Group A of the Women’s World Cup. England, without Sarah Taylor and Anya Shrubsole, had stumbled their way to 238, after having been rocking at 29/3. But 238 looked like it was enough against a team that had never beaten any of the Big Four (Australia, England, New Zealand or India). Trouble is nobody told the Sri Lankans!
England would have been worried when Yasoda Mendis and Chamari Atapattu put on over 100 for the first wicket, but a clatter of wickets seemed to have England back in control, until stocky fast bowler Eshani Koushalya decided that, with partners disappearing from the other end, the only way forward was attack. With 16 off the 48th over from Jenny Gunn Sri Lanka were nearly home, needing just 13 to win, but only four came from the 49th over bowled by Danni Hazell. Nine needed off the last, to be bowled by Georgia Elwiss. Koushalya dispatched the second ball of the over for 6 over deep square leg and Sri Lanka were in sight of an historic victory. Unfortunately Koushalya could not get them there herself, but keeper Dilani Manodara kept her cool and struck the last ball for four for an historic win!
It looked like it might be a turning point for women’s cricket in Sri Lanka, particularly when they went on to beat India by a massive 138 runs in the group stages, and qualified for the Super 6s stage of the competition.
But it proved to be a false dawn. In the subsequent four years, up to the World Cup Qualifier in their home country, Sri Lanka played another 31 ODIs. They have won just two – against West Indies and South Africa, and both of these on home soil. In the World Cup Qualifier they managed to beat Ireland, Pakistan and Bangladesh to fight their way through to this WWC17.
Little wonder then that the WWC17 Bloggers rate their chances of winning this World Cup at just 2.4 out of 10 – and even that might be being generous.
Despite the return of the experienced former skipper Shashikala Siriwardene to the squad, Inoka Ranaweera remains as captain. Nine of the squad will remember that win against England, including Atapattu and Koushalya. But they will be distant memories.
Atapattu remains at the heart of the Sri Lankan batting, but her form has been patchy over the last couple of years and she may struggle in English conditions. Young lefthanded opener Nipuni Hasini had a good Qualifier tournament and it will be interesting to see how she copes outside of Sri Lanka. But runs will be hard to come by for the Sri Lankans, and, if the pitches are true, which they are likely to be, wickets will be too. Life will be hard for their plethora of spin bowlers, led by left-armer Ranaweera, with off-spinners Siriwardene and Oshadi Ranasinghe, and fellow left-armer Chandima Gunaratne. They do have some pace in their attack, with Udeshika Prabodhani and Sripali Weerakkody the most likely candidates to make the team, but they are not much more than military medium, so are unlikely to be a big threat.
This could be a very tough tournament for Sri Lanka, who will be targeting possible wins against Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies, and have nothing to lose against the bigger names. Unfortunately, they may well go home empty-handed. But the creation of a new Women’s National Development Squad in Sri Lanka, just before this World Cup, may signal a new phase in women’s cricket in the cricket-mad island. A squad of thirty young players are all now contracted by Sri Lanka Cricket and will receive specialist training. It is a step in the right direction for women’s cricket in Sri Lanka, after an extended period in the cricketing wilderness.