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One of the newer test nations, formerly known as 'Ceylon', Sri Lanka have been a real force in world cricket on and off since their surprise success in the 1996 World Cup. I will focus more on limited overs cricket, given that they are presently in the middle of a one-day international series with India and have generally had most of their success as a cricketing team in that format.
What people associate mostly with Sri Lanka as a country is their exports. The country are major producers and exporters of Tea, Coffee, Rubber and Coconuts. Add into the equation friendly locals and some incredible beaches/seafronts.
If we skip back to the Cricket for one moment, what I personally think of with the Sri Lankans is generally a very exciting, yet unorthodox team. Their batsmen are famed for an ultra aggressive approach at the top of the order and their bowlers often come with very unconventional styles, designed to bamboozle batsmen.
What I will do is try and pick what I consider to be be the best possible XI for Sri Lanka were they to have a fully fit nation of cricketers and they were due to play say the Aussies or South Africa right now.
TEAM 1. Sanath Jayasuria - Well he may be getting on a bit in years but during the Indian Premier League he proved that he is still very capable of blasting attacks apart. On his day he will win matches alone with his extremely aggressive play at the top of the order. At times it can look like his batting is more akin to uncultured butchery rather than strokeplay but damn it is effective!
2. Kumar Sangakkara (WK) - One of the best batsmen in world cricket. Sangakkara has it all. A fine array of strokes in his locker, a knack for being able to play under any circumstance, be it defence under fire or attack when the team is flowing. When you listen to any of his interviews you can easily tell how intelligent a man he is, and it comes across in the way he plays the game.Still a fine keeper he only dons the gloves in limited overs cricket.
3. Mahela Jayawardene (CAPT) - The captain of the side and has been pivotal to the sides resurgence over the past few years after a bit of a dip late nineties/early noughties. As a batsmen he is an absolute class act, very much in the Ian Bell mould for me, but unlike Mr Bell he actually has the determination to see an innings through to the really big numbers. As a leader he has overseen home turf become an absolute fortress and he also led the team to the World Cup Final in 2007 where they were as enterprising as ever.
4. Chamara Silva - Just scrapes into the team, more on ability than track record. Silva is a really inconsistent peformer on the whole but has the ability to make some really telling contributions. A very aggressive player once set at the crease, Silva becomes a very dangerous player once he gets past 30-40 and can play on any surface. Can throw in some pretty inoccuous looking legspin on occasion.
5. Chamara Kupugedera - A brilliant talent in prospect. Aggressive batsmen that is pretty early in the piece to international cricket on the whole. Has shown glimpses of his ability in Sri Lanka colours and impressed on the whole in his Indian Premier League outings with some telling knocks. Can bowl a little medium pace stuff if you are desperately looking for a wicket.
6. Tillekeratne Dilshan - Mercurial. Can be explosive one day and extremely tame the next. He probably sums up Sri Lankan cricket on the whole. Came up with an incredible ton to see off the Aussies a few years back which left the crowd breathless. Dilshan plays some unorthodox strokes at times and loves trying to hit big sixes. Is a very capable off-break bowler that can do a job of stifling the runs rather than being a genuine wicket taker. The final thing to note about Dilshan is his electric ability in the field, he is the Collingwood of Sri Lanka from a fielding point of view.
7. Ferveez Maharoof - A terrific all rounder. Explosive hitter down the order and consistent change seamer. The sort of guy you would want in any team as he always gives his all for the cause. If I had to compare Maharoof to anybody it would probably be Flintoff, although admittedly he is very young in comparison and therefore not as developed, but the talent is there. On his day, he can rip through batting line-ups.
8. Chaminda Vaas - Has been mr consistency for the Sri Lankans for over a decade with the ball now. Has been a real nusiance for top order batsmen for so many years as his unerring accuracy has done for many of the best with alarming regularity. When you consider his ability to hit runs down the order in either a defensive capacity if early wickets have tumbled or an aggressive capacity when it is the slog overs, he has been so incredibly vital to them.
9. Lasith Malinga - Has an incredible action. He is what you could probably call a 'slingy' bowler and what is really bizarre is that he is able to generate over 90mph pace, and when on song he can bowl 90mph yorkers, which are quite frankly unplayable. Nearly always gets hit for a pretty high run rate per overs but is a real wicket taker very much in the mould of Tait for Australia.
10. Muttiah Muralitharan - So much controversy has surrounded the action of 'Murali', and so often his action has been cleared. The whole thing is boring to me now so what I want to do is celebrate one of the best bowlers the game has ever seen. Murali bowls off-break and throws the ball down from his unnaturally flexible wrist action and has bamboozled the best in the business for years. Has an incredible ability to both restrct the run scoring and threaten with vicious turners on the right sort of wicket. A big criticism of Murali is his inability to perform in Australia, but part of this is down to a sour incident with Daryll Hair in the mid 90's.
11. Ajantha Mendis - Murali Mark 2. Possibly the most unconventional bowler of all time. Batsmen find Mendis impossible to read because he can bowl anything. He is classified as a slow-medium bowler which is quite laughable when you consider the bag of tricks at his disposal. His signature delivery is what people call the 'flicker' which he releases after a strange finger movement (this sounds a bit dodgy!!). It is so early in his international career that it is difficult to describe him under any category but what I can say is that he is a rare talent and will no doubt be around for years.
FUTURE PROSPECTS - Look good to wrap up the present one day series with India (they lead 1-0 at present). In terms of future tournaments, they will need to continue to blood youngstrs in the team around the stalwarts because they could face a serious problem of the oldies all leaving the team at the same time with nobody with any sort of experience to come in.