Silverwood welcomes ‘great rivalry’ with Bangladesh: ‘We need good competition’

There’s no Super League, they failed to qualify for the Champions Trophy, and the next ODI World Cup is still three years away, but that doesn’t mean Sri Lanka are going to ease off. Sure, the overall focus is largely on June’s T20 World Cup, but according to head coach Chris Silverwood, an ODI series representing your country, particularly against a Bangladesh side with which they now have a fairly substantial rivalry, doesn’t require much by the way of external motivation.

“I think the motivation is that you’re playing for your country. I think you’ve seen on the field that there’s two passionate teams playing for their countries,” Silverwood said on the eve of the first ODI. “I think putting on that jersey and representing your country is motivation enough. And that’s exactly what we feel in our dressing room. So, the motivation is there.”

The embers of the rivalry between the two sides were once more stoked during the T20I series when Shoriful Islam celebrated a wicket in the first game with the now infamous time-out gesture pointing at his wrist. While the second game went off without incident, in the final T20I there were some strong words shared by Towhid Hridoy in response to a comment by a Sri Lankan player following the former’s dismissal, and then Sri Lanka fanned the flames further by posing for the series trophy with the entire team performing the timed-out gesture.

While both sides have, at least outwardly, spoken towards putting an end to the back and forth, Silverwood acknowledged that the rivalry has brought about a good competitive edge to both sides.

“The rivalry is obviously great. I think we need good competition. And as I said about the T20, it was two good sides and we’re going to play some competitive cricket. I expect exactly the same again in this tournament, in this series. So that’s what I’ll be looking for, some strong cricket being played. And obviously both teams will be looking for the same, I should imagine.”

In terms of ODI preparation, this is a Sri Lanka side still at the start of its cycle, one which they have begun extremely well with series wins against Zimbabwe and Afghanistan – as well a string of high scores courtesy refreshing positive intent from their batters. And Silverwood is keen to keep building on this momentum.

“We’re in a new cycle now, so we’re again building towards a style of brand of cricket that we want to play in the next World Cup. And that’s something that we’re trying to invent within the team, and this again is part of that process of doing that.

“We’re trying to continue the momentum that we’ve had from the series at home as well in Sri Lanka, where we played some fantastic cricket. And I’ll be encouraging the guys to go out and do the same thing. So, the batsmen to go score big runs individually and as a team to put those big scores on the scoreboard. And we’re asking the bowlers to keep producing their skills and keep getting better and better.”

Key to their batting hopes will be the returning Pathum Nissanka. The opener has been in he midst of the most purple of purple patches recently, starting with his string of half centuries in last year’s World Cup and peaking last month as he became the first Sri Lankan to score an ODI double century. He was a big miss in the T20s having been ruled out with a hamstring injury, but he’s back in the squad for the ODIs, and Silverwood has labelled his return as “massive”.

“I spoke earlier about fantastic individual contributions. You speak about Pathum in particular. I think what he achieved in Kandy was nothing short of exceptional. And obviously, we’re all very, very pleased with him in the dressing room. What he has done, he’s gone from strength to strength in the recent past and he’s become probably one of the most consistent performers within that batting lineup. So, he’s a key member of that batting lineup. It’s great to have him here.”

Another player Sri Lanka will be banking on is Kamindu Mendis. The ambidextrous former Under-19 captain found his way back to the national side following a three-year absence earlier this year, and he has since grabbed his latest opportunity with both hands. Given just one game each against Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, he impressed greatly in the latter – nearly stealing victory for Sri Lanka in a steep chase. He then came into into the playing XI more permanently as a replacement for Kusal Perera, who was sidelined with a respiratory infection, and proceeded to impress further against Bangladesh with his ambitious stroke play. Having circled the fringes for so long, he now finally seems to be making a concerted stake for a consistent berth.

“I think he thoroughly deserves it. I think what we’ve seen in the T20 series has been very, very good. But to be fair to him, ever since, every time he’s got an opportunity, he’s taken it. So, you know, again, he’s done that. So, we have to give him all of a credit. He works incredibly hard. He’s very diligent with his preparation, and I think he’s got the results he deserves.”

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