Avishka Fernando’s scintillating counter attacking knock in his debut world cup outing once again proved that if the team management stops receiving incoming calls before finalizing playing eleven, Sri Lanka can still do wonders in this world cup.
Ahead of the ICC World Cup, there was a lot of speculation over Jofra Archer making the 15-man England squad for the 50-over tournament. A proven bowling star in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Archer had already claimed that he would sad, but not really heartbroken, if he ends up missing out on a spot on the English side.
As cricket pundits and fans patiently awaited the selectors’ decision, sanity prevailed when the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) included the Barbados-born cricketer in their squad. Eager to repay the faith of team management and selectors, Archer made a sensational World Cup debut after registering impressive figures of 3-27 against South Africa in the opening game.
The 24-year-old struggled against Pakistan (going wicketless for 79 runs), before returning to his prolific best in the next matches. Proving his mettle as one of England’s bowling mainstays, he picked three wickets against Bangladesh, West Indies and Afghanistan. And, when the hosts took the field against Sri Lanka on 21st June, Archer was once again expected to continue his fine run.
Immediately making an impact, Archer struck in his very first over to dismiss Sri Lankan captain Dimuth Karunaratne (1). And, in the next over, when Chris Woakes sent Kusal Perera (2) back in the hut, it seemed that Archer and his bowling partners were in for wickets galore. And, with the unheard Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis at the crease, no one really expected a lot from the Lankan batsmen.
However, contrary to popular perception, Fernando had different plans. At a time, when other batsmen would have focussed on stabilising the innings, the 21-year-old decided to counter-attack on the back of some masterful strokes. Beginning the carnage in the sixth over, the Sri Lankan youngster decided to take on Archer arguably England’s best bowler in the tournament.
After getting beaten with a testing line on the first ball, Fernando lashed a wide delivery through covers for a pleasing boundary. But, Archer isn’t the one to back down either as he came back, squaring the Lankan batsman with a pacy delivery. The next delivery was again bowled with a searing pace at a shorter length that left no option for Fernando, but to get out of the way.
Trying to test the batsman with another short ball, Archer ended up overdoing the length as Fernando seized the opportunity and pulled it for a massive six. Desperate to finish the over well, Archer overcompensated by bowling full outside the off-stump, allowing Fernando to cream his drive for another four.
For someone who is undeniably one the pick of the bowlers in the tournament so far, Archer conceding 14 runs against the 21-year-old batsman had everyone praising the youngster. But, Fernando wasn’t done, not yet. In the tenth over, the right-hander once again cut Archer a sorry figure by hitting a four and then a massive six, which went out of the ground, to show his abilities on the biggest stage.
While the other batsmen were treading with caution, Fernando looked in a class of his own and looked poised for a big score. But, a rare brain-fade saw the right-handed batsman upper-cutting the ball despite knowing Eoin Morgan had placed the third man at the fence. As Adil Rashid completed a simple catch, Fernando missed out on his maiden World Cup fifty. But, despite that, the young gun won everyone over with his strokeful innings.
However, more importantly, with that courageous, counter attacking innings, Avishka Fernando has shown Sri Lanka team management the way forward. It is an open fact that the team management has some sort of soft corner with ever failing Lahiru Thirimane. That’s the only reason, Thirimane has been enjoying a joyride to UK, while more deserving players like Shehan Jayasuriya are being ignored. In last few months Asantha De Mel led selection committee has introduced young talents like Oshada Fernando, Avishka Fernando successfully and even reintroduced batting allrounder Ishuru Udana. However, as team management has no confidence in newly talented players, Thirimane managed to play five world cup matches. Avishka came into the side for the match against England only due to increasing pressure by media to oust non performing Thirimane.
Avishka, in his first knock in the world cup, gave a clear message to team management that if they are willing to play deserving players instead of politically influenced Jeevan Mendis, Milinda Siriwardena or Thirimane, Sri Lanka can still do wonders in this world cup!