It’s been a distinctly mixed year for Sri Lankan cricket. There were many highs as well as many lows – from being totally outclassed by England in all formats to breezing past the Aussies in the Test series.
The year started in preparation for the 2016 ICC World T20, hosted by India. Sri Lanka had a mammoth task in trying to defend their crown without the likes of the retired Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Before the World T20, they had a short tour of India and made the journey to Bangladesh to compete in the 2016 Asia Cup.
South African Graham Ford returned as head coach – a position he left in 2013 – and he and the selectors picked a bunch of fresh names for the challenge.
Vice-captain Dinesh Chandimal took charge, and the side to face seasoned stars such as MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma included young fast bowlers Kasun Rajitha and Binura Fernando.
The tour started well, and Sri Lanka surprised the Indian spectators as they won the first game by five wickets. However, India went on to win the series 2-1.
The Asia Cup provided worryingly little improvement, and the only game Sri Lanka won was against the UAE.
World T20 shambles
That turned out to be a taste of the disastrous things to come at the World T20.
Sri Lanka went into the tournament without feared fast bowler Lasith Malinga – out with a knee injury – who would have played a key role in their title defence. The Lankans were also in a tough group along with England, West Indies, South Africa and Afghanistan.
“The tour of England came around and with it a chance to see some new faces prove their worth”
They defeated minnows Afghanistan in the first game but went on to lose all their others, although there was some close encounters.
They nearly handed a defeat to England but crashed to bad losses against West Indies and South Africa to make a humiliatingly early exit. The Windies went on to win the tournament, defeating England in the final.
Much soul-searching followed, with speculation about whether the veteran Tillakarante Dilshan would retire, and questions asked about the calibre of some of the players picked.
As it was, Dilshan carried on but veteran bowler Rangana Herath decided to retire from T20s, and then the tour of England came around and with it a chance to see some new faces prove their worth.
Skittled in England
Going to England, Sri Lanka were always seen as the underdogs in all of the formats – and so it proved as the tourists failed to win a single game against the hosts.
“The one-dayers were no different, with lacklustre displays throughout”
For their fans, it was miserable to see poor performances in pretty much every match. The last time Sri Lanka toured England was in 2014, when they made a winning clean sweep of the one-day, T20 and Test series.
But there were still some individuals who managed to stand out and have a pretty good tour. Kusal Mendis impressed many, scoring 53 in the first Test in a pressure situation.
Captain Angelo Mathews showed some consistency with the bat, scoring 34 in the first Test and 80 in the second.
Those were the only positives to take from the Test series, however, and the one-dayers were no different, with lacklustre displays throughout aside from a few good individual performances such as that of wicketkeeper Dinesh Chandimal.
The home Test series, beginning in July, gave Sri Lanka a chance to get back on track with victory over the mighty Australians.
That lofty aim became a reality as Sri Lanka won the series 3-0.
Herath was the best bowler, taking 28 wickets in the three matches as well as being name player of the series, and a new hero came to light in the shape of Dhananjaya De Silva.
De Silva scored 325 runs with a best of 129. Kusal Mendis was also in scintillating form, with a top score of 176 in the first Test.
For the first time this year, Sri Lankan supporters had something to cheer and be proud about.
Whitewashing Australia in a Test series will certainly be a top memory for many fans, and one of the most memorable achievements in the country’s cricketing history.
The one-day series that followed felt like a close encounter despite the fact that Sri Lanka lost the series 4-1.
Months after the Australia tour, Zimbabwe presented a new challenge. Chandimal and Mathews did not travel due to injury, so it was a chance for other players to gain some experience. Herath was named as captain for the Test series and guided his side to a 2-0 win.
The whole team clicked and once Mathews and Chandimal come back, there will certainly be tough competition for places in the starting XI.
The Sri Lankan side are currently still in Zimbabwe competing in a tri-series along with the West Indies and Zimbabwe.
The Lankans end 2016 with a really tough tour to South Africa, with the first Test beginning on Boxing Day.
With good form since defeating Australia, you never know, they could rise to the occasion and win a Test series against South Africa for the first time.