When Bangladesh and Sri Lanka get to the ground on Tuesday, they will have one eye on the 22 yards, and the other on the skies.
Last weekend, Bristol was the venue of the only washout of the World Cup so far, which has meant that Sri Lanka haven’t played a game for six days. But that washout against Pakistan has ensured they are, against most calculations, in the top half of the points table despite being thumped by New Zealand and doing just about enough to beat Afghanistan.
But there are problems aplenty in their camp. Arguably their fastest bowler, and Man-of-the-Match from the Afghanistan game, Nuwan Pradeep, is unavailable due to a hand injury, and their batsmen have the poorest numbers among all the teams. On average since the start of 2017, they lose half their batsmen by the 30th over and are likely to be bowled out every 1.80 ODIs. In the World Cup, their middle order (Nos. 4-7) has scored just nine runs in two matches, with Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews having horror starts. Their only bright spots have been Kusal Perera’s dogged batting performances and a seam attack that looks like it can trouble batsmen when the conditions help a bit.
For Bangladesh, it’s about turning their campaign around after a promising start that has hit a roadblock following two defeats. But there were lessons in those losses. Their spin-focused attack has been expensive and unpenetrative, with some even calling it “regressive”. In English conditions, it would make sense to tweak their strategy against a big-hitting team. But against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh may be tempted to give that strategy one last shot.
There’s not much praise for their pacers either. They average a wicket every 90 balls in the first 30 overs, and it’s only some zippy death-bowling from Mohammad Saifuddin that gave New Zealand a hiccup and stopped England from making an even bigger total. The real differentiator between the two sides is Bangladesh’s superior batting form, and if the opportunity presents itself, bat-first-put-pressure would be their best approach against Sri Lanka.
There could be a major spanner in the works for Bangladesh, however, with their allrounder and talisman Shakib Al Hasan suffering a quadriceps injury during their last game against England in Cardiff, in which he scored a century.
Shakib missed training in Bristol on Monday, although he did come to the ground and was seen around the nets. “He batted against England with the strain, so we took him for a precautionary scan on his way back to the hotel,” Rabeed Imam, Bangladesh’s media manager, said.
Shakib has been Bangladesh’s best batsman in the World Cup so far, scoring two fifties apart from the century against England. Liton Das and Sabbir Rahman are the batsmen in reserve.
In the spotlight
Mohammad Saifuddin is only 22, but in his 15-ODI career, an economy of 7.1 in the last ten overs has meant that he has delivered more balls between overs 41-50 than even Mustafizur Rahman in this World Cup. He can tail in the older ball, and against a batting line-up that is still trying to find form, a bowler they have never faced could be tricky for Sri Lanka. If the spinners can’t find purchase, Saifuddin could be a good partnership-breaking option in the middle period as well.
Alex Carey looks on as Kusal Mendis prepares to drive Getty Images
Kusal Mendis has not played a single shot in control at the World Cup. He’s faced three deliveries for his two dismissals. Since 2018, he’s averaged 21.50 and has not been able to provide the stability that Sri Lanka have desperately needed in both their matches. With Milinda Siriwardana available for selection, the Bangladesh game could be Mendis’ final chance of keeping his spot in the XI.
Bowling allrounder Jeevan Mendis is the likeliest replacement for the injured Pradeep, which means Sri Lanka could field the same XI as the one in their ten-wicket loss against New Zealand. It increases their batting depth.
Sri Lanka 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne (capt), 3 Lahiru Thirimanne 4, Angelo Mathews, 5 Kusal Mendis/Milinda Siriwardana, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Thisara Perara, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Jeevan Mendis, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lasith Malinga
If Shakib isn’t fit to play, Bangladesh will have a choice to make between Liton Das – who is perhaps better suited to the No. 3 spot – and Sabbir Rahman – who can fill in with a few overs of legspin. Bangladesh could also be tempted to bring Rubel Hossain or Abu Jayed in for their extra pace instead of Mehidy Hasan.
Bangladesh 1 Tamim Iqbal, 2 Soumya Sarkar, 3 Shakib Al Hasan/Liton Das/Sabbir Rahman, 4 Mushfiqur Rahman (wk), 5 Mohammad Mithun, 6 Mahmudullah, 7 Mosaddek Hossain, 8 Mohammad Saifuddin, 9 Mehidy Hasan/Rubel Hossain, 10 Mashrafe Mortaza (capt), 11 Mustafizur Rahman
Pitch and conditions
In the last three completed games in Bristol, teams bowling first have won twice, England’s successful chase of 359 against Pakistan in May one of them. The weather is expected to be “showery” with over 50% chance of rain near toss time and again around 2pm.
- Dhananjaya de Silva has averaged only 16.90 after eight games in 2019, with a strike rate of just over 70. He could be replaced by Siriwardana, who also bowls a bit of left-arm spin, so Sri Lanka won’t lose the part-time option either. Importantly, Siriwardana has three half-centuries from No. 6 in a short career and could provide a new dimension to their batting.
- It’s in Sri Lanka’s best interest for Mathews to bat at No. 4. Since the start of 2017, he has been dismissed inside 20 deliveries in only 16% of his games, while the rest of his team-mates range between 48% (de Silva) and 100% (Jeevan Mendis). It appears he is the only option in the Sri Lankan line-up to play the anchor role if their captain Dimuth Karunaratne falls early.
- Bangladesh should start off with spin against Kusal Perera. Since 2018, he averages 51.1 against the quicks so feeding him pace would enable Sri Lanka to have a crisp beginning. Against spin, he averages only 22.7 and is dismissed every 25.7 deliveries. Mehidy turning the ball away from him would be a good match-up from Bangladesh’s perspective.
Stats and trivia
- Shakib Al Hasan is 23 runs away from becoming the second Bangladesh batsman to reach 6000 ODI runs.
- Lasith Malinga needs four wickets to become the fourth man to take 50 World Cup wickets. If he takes three, he’ll tie with Chaminda Vaas on 49 World Cup wickets – the second-highest for Sri Lanka behind Muttiah Muralitharan’s 68.
- Mustafizur Rahman is set to play his 50th ODI.