'The problem is in our mind' - Karunaratne blames batsmen after bruising defeat

New Zealand v Sri Lanka, World Cup 2019, Cardiff June 01, 2019

There was papare music enlivening the stands in Cardiff, hundreds of Sri Lankan flags aflutter, and raucous cheers for every Sri Lankan boundary. Fans had traveled hours to be at this match, filling out early morning trains from London, and booking out Cardiff hotels for the night.

It should have been a happy day out, but it was barely a half-day - Sri Lanka dusted off in emphatic fashion, in the space of 45 overs. There were even some reports of boos and hoots for their team, from the Sri Lankan sections of the crowd. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne - the only batsman to remain at the crease for more than 40 deliveries, made no excuses for his team. If spectators were angry, perhaps they had a right to be.

"Everyone came here to see a good match. They came from far away, spending their money. We needed to give them a good match. Losing is one thing, but we need to fight for the sake of the spectators. If you only make 130-odd, that's not a match," Karunaratne said after the bruising ten-wicket loss. "Personally, a lot of people had wished as well and urged us to do well in this first match. Everyone was looking forward to this game, and to playing well.

"If we had fought and made a good fist of this game and then lost, it wouldn't have been so hard to swallow."

Sri Lanka are ranked ninth, and are nursing a woeful ODI record over the past two years. Karunaratne knows his team is not expected to challenge for the title. But the Test side he had led in South Africa earlier in the year was perhaps even more unfancied than this ODI side, beset as it had been by injury and inexperience. There, his team had somehow find the means to compete, and seized key moments in each of the Tests to turn the tide in their favour.

"There's a limit to our capabilities, and if you compare us with some other teams, realistically we are a side with limited talent," Karunaratne said. "But there's no reason why we can't win with what we've got. We really thank the spectators, and their support is really important to us. We've got eight games left now. We want to come back and fight. If we win one game, we'll build some momentum. The support that we get is vital, because it's just 15 of us in the squad, and 30 of us traveling together with the team. We need that support around us."

Sri Lanka's bowlers were unable to dent New Zealand, who sped to the meagre target at a rate of 8.47 an over, but it was at the batsmen's feet that Karunaratne laid almost all the blame. Especially crucial was the period between the ninth and 16th overs of Sri Lanka's innings, where they nosedived from 46 for 1 to 60 for 6. Yes, a green pitch and the skilful New Zealand seam bowling were challenges, Karunaratne said, but there was no excuse for a collapse quite that dramatic.

"Because there was a bit of grass on the pitch, we were on the back foot," he said. "The NZ attack is very good, but when Kusal Perera and I were batting, there wasn't too much seam and swing. But as soon as we went on the back foot, we couldn't play as well as we know we can.

"More than the conditions, the problem is in our mind. There was some quick bowling from them, but it's only with a few overs that they made it very difficult for us. If we had seen out those tough periods, we could have been in a better place. Even though it's not the kind of pitch that's conducive to 300 or 350, if we get it in our heads that we can't bat well here, we can't put the kind of score on the board that our bowlers can defend."

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