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Sri Lanka women’s series win vs England really huge for cricket in the country, says SL coach

Sri Lanka women’s series win vs England really huge for cricket in the country, says SL coach

Sri Lanka blew their hosts away by seven and eight wickets respectively to come back from 1-0 down and hand England their first T20I series defeat by a side other than Australia since 2010.

Given that Sri Lanka are ranked six places lower than England and Pakistan two spots behind South Africa in the format, the results have fuelled hopes that the gap between the top-ranked nations and the rest can be closed. Ratnayake’s prediction that his side’s victory will make people sit up and take notice in Sri Lanka can only help the cause.

“If I say it’s huge, it’s not good enough because it’ll be really huge,” he told ESPNcricinfo after Wednesday night’s victory in the series decider in Derby, led by captain Chamari Athapaththu’s 3 for 21 and 44 off 28.

“It’s really huge because when we left Sri Lankan shores, they didn’t think that we would do so well. Everybody thought maybe you might win one out of six. But I just told the girls that we are here not just to play and participate, we are here to win. I think it is going to be huge there. The awareness of girls playing and wanting to be people like Chamari and the likes would be huge.”

Athapaththu had been instrumental in the win at Chelmsford also, her brutal half-century helping mow down another meagre target after England were bowled out inside 20 overs for the first of two successive games. Her scintillating form this year – she has two unbeaten centuries and four half-centuries across white-ball formats in 2023 – has only emphasised Athapaththu’s position as the lynchpin of her side, but Ratnayake was pleased that others had contributed to their latest victory too.

Kavisha Dilhari, the 22-year-old off-spinner matched Athapaththu’s five wickets for the series and was key to their latest victory with her variations in speed and tight lines, claiming 2 for 16. Seamer Udeshika Prabodhani also bagged 2-16 in Derby and, along with left-arm spinner Inoka Ranaweera and offspinner Inoshi Priyadharshani, rounded out the series’ top-five bowlers.

“It’s huge,” Ratnayake said of Athapaththu’s influence on the team. “But our challenge is to win without her. I saw the others sort of stepping into it as well. We’ve got some good players, but to have another Chamari would be a freakish outcome in the future.

“That’s the way we play back home. Sometimes I keep Chamari with me and we play matches without her, and we see where we stand against good opposition, and that’s a challenge for the future. It’s working out well.

“You’ll be surprised, even the smallest can hit sixes now. So we are there, but it’s a collective thing, it’s a cohesive thing where everybody gets together and works as a team.

“We know where we can be and we can see the picture and that’s how we are here and that’s what we came for. We spoke of playing cricket for moments like this, for tours like this.”

Ratnayake also attributed practice matches against men’s sides to helping his players’ development, but he highlighted a change in mindset as critical.

“I recognised what we need to do and created an environment which was a learning environment where they were free to express themselves in a fearless manner because I saw them playing cricket in a very fearful way,” he said. “When they started to play like that, we saw some good things coming out. It was a challenging environment where they learned a lot of things.”

A fearless approach is precisely what Jon Lewis, England Women’s head coach, asked of his players when he took charge last year. He even applied the philosophy to selection for Sri Lanka’s visit, opting to rest some senior players to test younger, less experienced ones at international level.

Even after the loss to Sri Lanka, Lewis stood by the approach, saying it was about “trying to give people opportunities who’ve been sat on the edge of our squad or just outside our squad, to try and learn about what they’re capable of under pressure”.

While England will welcome back star allrounder Nat Sciver-Brunt and opener Tammy Beaumont for the three-match ODI leg starting in Durham on Saturday, that series could hinge somewhat on whose courage wavers first.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women’s cricket, at ESPNcricinfo

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