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Dec 30, 2010

All eyes on the big one

They didn't have many opportunities in Test cricket but in 2010 Sri Lanka shaped up nicely for the World Cup 

For a year that included three tri-series titles, a first-ever one-day series victory in Australia, and a respectable showing in the World Twenty20, there was a strangely flat feeling about Sri Lanka's performances in 2010. The main reason is the lopsided FTP, which hasn't provided enough Test cricket - there were no away Tests this year for Kumar Sangakkara's men. Of their two home series, one was a result of the BCCI's new-found love of the long form, and the other was the rain-ravaged contest against West Indies, during which more time was spent watching the weather forecast than the cricket. 

In the Test cricket that was on offer, they were patchy. Their first five-day game came as late as July and was dominated by the retirement of their talisman, Muttiah Muralitharan. Fittingly Sri Lanka's greatest match-winner won them one last game before bowing out. It turned out to be their only Test victory of the year. That series against India ended in a draw as Sri Lanka lost the P Sara Test despite Thilan Samaraweera's best efforts. The matches against West Indies could have been a good indicator of how Sri Lanka will fare in the absence of Murali, but torrential rain through the series frustrated fans. 

The supporters won't be complaining about Sri Lanka's one-day form, though. Winning every series they played in 2010, barring the Asia Cup, where they dominated the league stage before faltering in the final, Sri Lanka enter the World Cup year as a formidable outfit. Their tri-series triumphs may be quickly forgotten but what will remain in the memory is the back-from-the-dead victory against Australia in Melbourne, where Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga produced a world-record 132-run ninth-wicket stand to deliver an improbable win. 

What has made Sri Lanka so dangerous is that they aren't over-reliant on one or two stars; match-winning performances have come from a number of players. Few people will be able to guess who their highest wicket-taker of the year is - 21-year-old allrounder Thisara Perera. Another young allrounder, Mathews, continued to show he has the talent and temperament for a long international career at the top, while offspinner Suraj Randiv has also made a bright start. 

The new talent supports the big names who were part of Sri Lanka's run to the 2007 World Cup final. Tillakaratne Dilshan didn't quite hit the heights of 2009 but made match-winning centuries in the finals of two tri-series, Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara remain prolific, Malinga continues to befuddle batsmen, and Murali is still around for a final tilt. 

In the only global tournament of the year, the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean, Sri Lanka again made it to the knockout stages before losing to the eventual champions. This time Sangakkara's side ran into England, who turned in a supremely composed performance to knock Sri Lanka out in the semi-finals.

Fading star

Perhaps the most pathetic sight of the World Twenty20 was that of 40-year-old Sanath Jayasuriya, once an unstoppable marauder, scratching around for 15 runs in six innings. He hasn't played international cricket since, but remains hopeful of making next year's World Cup after finding a place in the 30-man provisional squad. 

New kid on the block

With Murali's career nearly over, and Mendis' star still struggling to reclaim the lustre of 2008, Sri Lanka slow-bowling options were looking thin. Suraj Randiv stepped up. He lacks extravagant turn but his extra bounce and discipline soon made him the first-choice spinner across all formats. In an eventful year, he was at the forefront of Sri Lanka's push for a series win over India at the P Sara Oval, involved in a controversy over a deliberate no-ball, and was electric throughout in the field. 

High point

There was a maiden one-day series win in Australia, but the uplifting farewell to Murali in Galle was a heart-warmer in a year in which the game was awash with dispiriting headlines. It was sweetened by the win set up by Murali's eight wickets, the last of which carried him to the milestone of 800. 

Low point

Surrendering to a weakened India in a deciding Test will hurt, though losing to the world's top side isn't as disappointing as having virtually the entire series against West Indies washed out - in a year when Sri Lanka were starved of Test cricket. Sangakkara called it the "worst series of his life". 

What 2011 holds

Sri Lanka have two big-ticket events in the first half of the year: first, the World Cup at home, for which they among the favourites, and then the challenge of a full tour of England, which will test how far Sri Lanka have progressed as a Test side. 

Source - Cricinfo

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