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ENG vs SL 2021 – Coach Mickey Arthur wants top-heavy Sri Lanka to find middle-order balance in England

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“We can’t be top-heavy and have no one who can bat in the middle and finish for us,” he says

Higher strike rates, better rotation, and more intensity after the field spreads. As Sri Lanka attempt to defibrillate their flatlining limited-overs game, the middle overs are the area that coach Mickey Arthur wants his batters to focus on against England. In their previous ODI series against Bangladesh, it is in this period that the innings lost its way twice, leading to a 2-1 series loss.

“In Bangladesh, we got caught a little bit through the middle overs and that’s one area where we’ve focused hard on in our practice and preparation,” Arthur said, several days out from the start of the T20I and ODI series against England starting later this month. “It’s about the intensity required through that middle period. Our strike rotation and intensity at the crease are really areas that we’ve worked on in this training block.”

Part of Sri Lanka’s problem in Bangladesh, according to Arthur, had been a dearth of quality in the middle order, while too many batters vied for top-order spots. With Kusal Perera, Avishka Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Oshada Fernando all in the squad for the England tour, Sri Lanka face the same problem again. But Arthur feels there are batters from that list who could prosper in the middle overs too, particularly with some intensive training.

“We’ve reclassified guys’ roles. We’ve got a lot of players who can bat Nos. 1, 2 and 3, but we didn’t have many guys who could bat 4, 5 and 6. We’ve consolidated that here in our training session. One of two players has had to change the roles that we’ve had before. We can’t be top-heavy and have no one who can bat in the middle and finish for us.

“We’ve knuckled down on the roles of each guy and set the scenarios up in the nets to replicate that. I’ve got a clear plan on who’s going to drop into the middle. If you look at KJP (Perera), Avishka and Danushka at 1, 2 and 3, that’s pretty good. We need to drill down and get 4, 5 and 6 batting comfortably within their roles as well, so that those middle overs – when we need to rotate strike – we’ve actually practiced it and the people we’ve sent into those positions can handle it.”

Among Arthur’s priorities since becoming Sri Lanka coach has been to identify players he believes will serve the team in the long term, and to consistently pick those players in the side. This approach aims to change years of instability within the limited-overs sides in particular. The England tour, Arthur hoped, would bring Sri Lanka closer to nailing down a batting order that will serve the team for some time.

“We’ve got to settle down on a batting order as soon as we can. We can’t be jumping around having players bat in so many positions because that just creates confusion. Each position is so different.

“What we’ve tried to do over the last while is just to nail down the guys’ roles. I’ve looked at and studied what the best teams in the world are doing. I’ve looked at strike rates, I’ve looked at averages and I’ve looked at everything pertaining to a good, solid, consistent line-up.

“I’ve tried to adjust our batting order to make sure that the players set themselves goals, so we know what best practice is in international cricket in terms of strike rate in every position. And also that the guys know what roles they are playing. Now it’s about backing those players.”

The three T20Is will be played on June 23, 24 and 26, and the three ODIs on June 29, July 1 and 4.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf

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