Tuesday’s World Cup fixture between Sri Lanka and Afghanistan was quite exciting. Not often do you see Sri Lanka naming an all seam attack, but in Cardiff, they had the guts to bite the bullet and opt for the horses for courses path. In all, there were five seam options that skipper Dimuth Karunaratne could look up to and in the end he was smiling ear to ear having dug deep on all options in a bid to defend 187.
The hero for Sri Lanka was Nuwan Pradeep, who finished with career best figures of four for 31. Only three Sri Lankans have picked up five wicket hauls in World Cups and Pradeep had an opportunity to get there, but the captain held back Pradeep, thinking he might have to bowl late in the game.
Pradeep firing on all cylinders, bowling with clever imagination augurs well in what’s going to be a tough competition for Sri Lanka. He is the quickest among the fast bowlers Sri Lanka are carrying and if conditions are helpful, as was the case in Cardiff, Sri Lanka can count on him.
Pradeep is making a comeback to the side after a long layoff due to injuries. He was sidelined for four months having returned home from Australia with a hamstring injury. He wasn’t the only quick to fly back home from down under. Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha Chameera soon joined him and Sri Lanka were forced to scratch the barrel.
Injuries have been an issue affecting Sri Lanka in the last four years and the team has never been able to field a full-strength side as players were on the mend always.
Angelo Mathews averaged 74 in 2013 and 77 in 2014. He was ranked alongside Virat Kohli and Steve Smith as the world’s premier batsmen. This is not considering his exploits with the ball. Alas, his lower body broke down and since then he has been a shadow of his former self.
The injury list is endless. Dhammika Prasad suffered the same fate after an excellent 2015 where he bowled with fire and troubled many a batsman. His case is a pity as the diagnosis was wrong and then he ended up hurting his shoulder while doing rehab as the medical staff pushed him beyond his comfort zone.
Prasad has played little international cricket since then. Anyone who watched the way he bowled at Headingly during the 2014 Test series win over England, would be in total awe of the man.
Some people argue that too much cricket is the reason for this many injuries. But the other side of the coin is that there are other teams whose volume is bigger than that of Sri Lanka. India, for example, play much more than the Sri Lankans do, but what the BCCI has done is to introduce a rotation policy. They can do that because they are placed well in the rankings. Sri Lanka need to find a way to rotate their players just to make sure that there are no burn outs.
Too often players have rushed back to competitive cricket without being fully healed and that has had an adverse impact, resulting in more injuries. Pradeep himself broke down halfway through a Test match in 2017, causing the team much trouble. Nine months later, it happened again as he hurt his hamstring again, midway through a spell.
Graeme Labrooy’s selection panel had an interesting policy. After recovering from an injury, a player was not rushed back into international cricket, unless he had proved his match fitness in domestic cricket. Spare a thought for Dimuth Karunaratne. He was injured ahead of the tour of West Indies last year but still could have made it for the second Test. But the policy the selectors had, prevented him from joining the tour ahead of the second Test.
That policy was not persevered with. Had it continued, some players wouldn’t have made it to the World Cup in England and Wales.
The famous saying, prevention is better than cure, carries a strong message. If players look after themselves with proper training and food patterns, they can at least prevent certain injuries. It looks like too many players have failed to look after themselves in recent times.
One reason why the team failed at the quarter-final stage in the last World Cup was because of the amount of injuries to players. Quite a few replacements had to be called up after a series of injuries prior and during that tournament. Thankfully, the team has been injury free in this campaign so far. Hurt by the experiences of the last edition, the team is also carrying additional players, just in case of an unexpected injury so that they are not caught off guard.