Angelo Mathews couldn’t have put it better than with his ‘barrier of finals’ coinage to describe his team’s Asia Cup triumph on Saturday night. For, Sri Lanka have seemed to suffer from a hoodoo at the final hurdle in recent years. The Asia Cup title was the first the islanders had won since 2008 in a tournament involving more than three teams.
Including the time they were crowned world champions in 1996, Sri Lanka have reached the finals in three out of the last five 50-over World Cups and two out of four World T20s. That puts them on par with Australia for most ‘finals’ appearances in global events in that period. And they have done so in different conditions and climes around the world.
You probably weren’t aware of these stats, but don’t blame yourself. That has been the true story of Sri Lankan cricket — a side that has been more consistent than any other in limited-overs cricket, but one that struggles to capture world cricket’s collective imagination.
More than being bridesmaids, Sri Lanka have been like guests who always get a seat at the wedding but never a special mention during the toast. So as the build-up begins towards next years’ World Cup Down Under, we’ll speak about Australia’s home advantage, India’s batting might, the unpredictability of Pakistan and West Indies, the Kiwis’ quadrennial dark horse status and how South Africa and England are due a major prize. But what about Sri Lanka, the runners-up from the last two editions? Well, they’ll show up anyway.
But why look as far as 2015, when the World T20 gets underway next week. But once again, they are more likely to be clubbed with the other sub-continent teams as strong contenders, rather than be singled out as being a ‘front-runner’, despite having made the finals in two out of last three World Twenty20s.
Finishing second best never leaves a lasting impression. But even here, Sri Lanka have not been given their due. No one calls the Lankans as ‘chokers’, even after having suffered the jitters more than any other team in crunch matches. That privilege is reserved solely for South Africa.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that they are not the attention-grabbing kind. Except Lasith Malinga for his unorthodoxy and trend-setting hairstyles, the spotlight has continued to evade the Lankans. Even Test bigwigs Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are unlikely to feature too high up in ODI power-lists.
Breaking the ‘barrier of finals’ more often as clinically as they did in Dhaka could help. Or maybe not.
(Bharat is a principal correspondent, based in Mumbai)