'Middle order doesn't have confidence' - Karunaratne

The Sri Lanka batsmen struggled against the short-pitched stuff
Sri Lanka v West Indies, World Cup 2019, Chester-Le-Street June 30, 2019

Softer than marshmallow, slower than a tortoise, Sri Lanka's middle order has had a poor tournament. Across five team innings, Sri Lanka have five half-centuries, but two each are from openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera. Nos. 4-7, in 20 combined innings, have contributed only one fifty: Angelo Mathews' unbeaten 85 against England.

Worse even than that output, has been their rate of scoring. Between Mathews, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva and Jeevan Mendis, the best tournament strike rate belongs to Kusal Mendis, who has gone at 63.52. Jeevan, meanwhile, has struck at 37.25.

Against South Africa, several batsmen in the middle order attempted to hit out, but were not only unsuccessful in their attempts to raise the strike rate, they also frequently lost wickets playing big shots. So modest is their collective form, captain Karunaratne admitted, that like the turtles on their eco-friendly team shirts, some Sri Lanka batsmen have retreated into shells.

"Our middle order hasn't scored a lot of runs, and they don't have that confidence," he said. "If you don't have runs behind you, there's always a doubt in your mind as to whether you're going to get out when you go for a big shot. It's important to get settled before you go for those shots. What South Africa did in the last game was keep those fielders up. When we tried to hit out, it didn't work - we lost wickets in a row.

"We have to know how to handle those situations and how to escape from those traps. I haven't told everyone that same advice, but we are trying to work with some players on getting out of situations like that. In a big tournament like this, when you have a must-win match on the line, maybe it's better to have a more positive mindset."

The top three - meanwhile - consisting of Karunaratne, Kusal Perera and Avishka Fernando - have largely been able to find runs somewhere. Karunaratne has accumulated, while Kusal Perera and Fernando have been aggressive, often piercing gaps in the infield, or hitting aerial boundaries. Their contributions have not been enough to get Sri Lanka to even a single score in excess of 250, however - their 247 against Australia, in pursuit of 335 having been their highest total.

"We know that we weren't able to make a score in excess of 250 - that's the biggest factor in our team performance so far in the tournament," Karunaratne said. "If two or three batsmen get set, then we can definitely get to 250. It's very difficult when you only make 200, 220 to tell the bowlers to then take the opposition wickets. We need to take responsibility as a batting unit and make a big score."

Before the defeat to South Africa, Sri Lanka had the chance to make it to 12 points with three consecutive victories, but with a ceiling of 10 points now, several other results must go their way if they are to make it through. If England win at Edgbaston, Sri Lanka's window shuts completely.

"Now we have to wait for other results," he said. "We're not a side who should be in this position. We have talent, and skill to compete with anyone. But we only performed in certain games. It's our bowlers who mainly performed as well. Our batting line up hasn't fired altogether yet."

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