DURHAM, Wednesday: Sri Lanka will be relying on the expertise of their batting coach Jon Lewis on the pitches and conditions at Durham when they play two crucial World Cup matches at this venue against South Africa on Friday and West Indies on Monday as they aim for a place in the semi-finals.
Sri Lanka has six points from six matches and must win their remaining three matches to be in with a chance of qualifying.
The news Lewis had for Sri Lanka was quite encouraging when he said that one day pitches in Durham was the best in the country.
â€œThe last two days were not so good it has been very damp which is not unusual for this part of the world. But the prospect for today is good and for the match day it is good as well,â€ said Lewis, who was Durham countyâ€™s head coach until he was appointed batting coach of Sri Lanka in December last year.
â€œI am confident that any sort of moisture that is left will be gone by Friday. Covers are coming off now and let the sun get to it. Generally the one day pitches here is the number one and they play well,â€ he said. Following Sri Lankaâ€™s upset win over hosts England, Lewis was confident that they could carry that momentum into the two matches at Durham also.
â€œWe are in a good position at the moment. We are going into South Africaâ€™s game where the top five guys have scored 40 plus in the last two innings. Thatâ€™s a position of strength we havenâ€™t had in this competition so far,â€ said Lewis.
â€œOnly Dimuth and KJP have been our main scorers. Now we are going into a game with five guys amongst the runs. It took a lot of confidence I think the way they played at Leeds obviously against a good attack. I think we assessed the conditions early,â€ he said.
â€œApart from Avishka, I donâ€™t think anyone else found any fluency on that pitch. It was not coming onto the bat. Kusal Mendisâ€™ knock wasnâ€™t that entire fluent but very valuable. The partnership he put up with Avishka and Angelo were crucial. It was a case of him working out, maybe I am not here to hit lot of boundaries and maybe I will do the job for the team.
â€œThere are guys who have got runs in the last two innings. Everybody feels a little bit better. We have had two guys who have battled over 100 balls in the last two games and thatâ€™s a good indication. Thatâ€™s something we have not been doing over the last year to play 100 balls. It has been a long time. It has been something that we have been asking for. Thatâ€™s what we need,â€ Lewis continued.
â€œContributions like not just 40 or 50 balls. The World Cup has shown that. Kane Williamson and Joe Root they arenâ€™t the guys who are quick out of the blocks but they catch up and thatâ€™s possibly the way to do it.â€
Lewis was quite impressed the way Avishka Fernando batted on his World Cup debut. The 21-year-old youngster contributed an aggressive 49 off 39 balls after openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera were dismissed early in the innings.
â€œAvishka is an impressive young man. He has some real ability. He is really exciting. Even during that brief innings in South Africa, which was really tough for him, it was a baptism of fire for him,â€ said Lewis.
â€œI know it wasnâ€™t really his debut in South Africa but he had his moments. He didnâ€™t get big scores but against that world class attack, he looked in control and had his moments. He is going to find his way into an innings. Thereâ€™s a difference between being a good ball striker and a batsman.â€
Apart from Avishka Fernando and Kusal Mendis from the top order it was the experienced Angelo Mathews who played the real anchor innings to keep the Lankan innings afloat till the 50 overs with a workmanlike 85 not out off 115 balls.
â€œAngelo had a lot confidence having those numbers against his name. All the batsmen they like to have those numbers in front of them. Great batsmen tell you that they feel confident when they have numbers,â€ said Lewis.
â€œEveryone feels good when they have 80 to their name. Not so fluent. He recognized what the pitch and the team required and put together some very good partnerships. He would want to be fluent when the pitch is good but in Leeds he did the right thing.â€
Sri Lanka were rolled over 5-0 by South Africa in the five one-day internationals played in March, but Lewis expects them to give the Proteas a tougher fight here as the pitches will not be as quick as it was in South Africa.
â€œSteyn, Rabada, Ngidi and Nortje were quite tough. Some of the pitches there in South Africa offered fast bowlers plenty with the new ball. These pitches will not have much pace and that will help a little bit. There is movement though,â€ Lewis said.
However he warned Sri Lanka of the wiles of leg-spinner Imran Tahir whom the Lankan batsmen have found difficult to handle.
â€œImran is obviously a class performer and we are going to recognize that he is a dangerous player. We need to focus on our guys. We are not going to ignore the facts against him. We will ensure that everyone is up for the challenge,â€ said Lewis. â€œWe need to have an idea against some of their stronger players like Imran. Even Imran can have a bad day and then we need to cash in if he does.â€