“Fearless” was once again the buzzword for Kusal Perera on the eve of the first T20I against England, as the Sri Lanka captain once more leaned on the mantra that he had put forth for his side upon taking over the limited-overs reins earlier this year.
“We need to be able to play fearlessly,” Perera said during a virtual pre-match media briefing. “This is not something that’s going to change overnight, but if we keep playing with the same attitude, day by day, the results will eventually come.”
Perera had first spoken of playing “fearless cricket” ahead of Sri Lanka’s recent tour of Bangladesh, a plan that in the end wound up being more notional than anything else as Sri Lanka’s batters floundered in all but the last game of the ODI series.
That match and victory, incidentally, had come once the series had been lost, and the pressure to perform lifted. For Perera and the Sri Lanka coaching staff, getting the players to showcase their skills more consistently and, crucially, when it matters, has been the most pressing task in recent weeks.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions with the coaches on how we can translate what we do in practice to competitive matches. The problem for us so far has been that in practice we perform really well, but during a match we’re unable to produce the same performances. Each player is different. So we’re trying to see how to get each individual to a point where they can take their performances from practice out into a competitive fixture.”
This inability to perform consistently on the biggest stage has led to one of Sri Lanka cricket’s leanest periods in their history; dating back to the start of 2019, Sri Lanka have won just over 30% of their limited-overs games. And while in England – the top-ranked T20I side and reigning ODI world champions – Sri Lanka’s young side faces its toughest test to date, Perera is hopeful that the relative lack of expectation placed on the visitors will help free his side of the mental hang-ups that may have been holding them back.
“In the situation we’re in at the moment, it’s like we have nothing to lose – we can only really gain from this series,” Perera said. “Whereas with England they have more to lose, there is always that additional pressure on them.”
Under head coach Mickey Arthur, Sri Lanka’s limited-overs side has seen one of its most drastic overhauls in recent memory, with several senior players discarded in favor of younger alternatives. This has resulted in a fair bit of inexperience in the side, but on the flip side a lot of eagerness to impress fringe players.
Perera is hopeful that a string of games against one of the top limited-overs sides in the world will help solidify the players’ trust and belief in the process Arthur and his coaching staff have put in place.
“When we play against accomplished teams like this, a lot of our players are going to try and bring their A game. Because it’s only when you perform well against the best teams that increases your confidence in your ability.
“At the moment our team is actually quite confident – but not over-confident – and we have the belief that we can make an impact here and turn things around. Our aim is to do the right things and play a good game. We believe that we can play well against this England team, and know that the results will come if we just keep doing the right things.”
That said, Perera is acutely aware that Sri Lanka will need to be at the top of their game if they are to get anything out of this series.
“We need to do what we know without fear. It’s of course easier said that done. We know that of the 11 players, not everyone can bring their A game every match, but whenever a player is able to reach that level, they need to be able to see the game through to the finish.”
Sri Lanka will play three T20Is on June 23, 24 and 26, while the three ODIs will take place on June 29, July 1 and 4.
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