Sri Lanka may have had a horror year in terms of squad building and preparation, and the biggest tests undoubtedly lie ahead, but that has failed to dull captain Dasun Shanaka's optimism ahead of the Men's T20 World Cup. Drawing parallels to the vintage side that won the 2014 tournament, the Sri Lanka captain feels that his current side has similar depth and variety, something he believes could see them potentially go a "long way in this tournament" - even if they lack considerably in terms of experience.
"If you recall, that squad had a lot of variety and depth. And with the youngsters we have coming through now I feel have the same potential, but the only thing lacking is the experience," Shanaka said, speaking on a captains' Zoom call. "If our guys perform to their strengths I feel they can go a long way in this tournament. Our fans in Sri Lanka have been waiting a long time for us to be successful, and I hope we can make them proud."
Much of Shanaka's optimism stems from the balance the team has seemingly struck in the past few weeks. For most of the year Sri Lanka's white-ball batting blueprint had centred around the likes of Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis, but following the trio's ban for breaching curfew and bio-bubble protocols, the last few months have seen the Sri Lankan think-tank mix and match several options in the top and middle order with little success.
However, following a training camp last month, which consisted of several intra-squad matches geared towards nailing down roles for each player, Sri Lanka seem to have stumbled on something resembling balance.
Avishka Fernando has been a revelation at No. 4, Chamika Karunaratne and Shanaka have shown promise in their roles as finishers lower down the order, and in the bowling department there are two quicks who can regularly dish out speeds touching 140kph, and spinners with as many variations as you're likely to see all tournament.
"We were not able to perform up to the mark in the last few years, but still the strength of our squad is very good. We've got two guys coming from the IPL [Dushmantha Chameera and Wanindu Hasaranga], Kusal Janith [Perera] at the top of the order and Avishka Fernando, who is going well, coming in at No. 4.
"We are settled with our batting line-up. We've recently changed our line-up a bit - I think we've struck a good balance."
"If our guys perform to their strengths I feel they can go a long way in this tournament. Our fans in Sri Lanka have been waiting a long time for us to be successful, and I hope we can make them proud." Dasun Shanaka
The only point of debate, combination-wise, might be at the top of the order, with the opening combination still unsettled. Sri Lanka have tried out three different pairs in their last four matches, with one of Dinesh Chandimal, Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva partnering Pathum Nissanka. Indeed, despite being a last-minute addition to the squad, Nissanka seems to be the only certainty in terms of Sri Lanka's opening combo, and Shanaka is backing the highly rated youngster - who has yet to make his mark in white-ball cricket - to show his class on the biggest stage.
"He's been a guy coming through the system, so we know how capable he is. Still, when you come to the biggest stage you have to make your mark by scoring good runs. I feel he will make this tournament his own and make it count."
Shanaka has far fewer concerns is in the bowling department. Even with Nuwan Pradeep being ruled out of the tournament with an eleventh-hour hamstring injury, Sri Lanka have in Chameera and Lahiru Kumara two bowlers capable of clocking high speeds.
Chameera's 2021 T20 record in particular has been worthy of note, with his 15 wickets in 12 T20Is and an economy rate of 6.51. Needless to say a fit Chameera is integral to Sri Lanka's plans.
"Going with two main fast bowlers, they give a lot of quality to the squad. And Associate nations, they don't face a lot of 140+ fast bowlers.
"Obviously losing Pradeep is a concern. He had been bowling brilliantly over the last six months, and we were counting on him during this tournament, but still what we can get from Lahiru Kumara and Dushmantha is massive."
In the spin department, meanwhile, Sri Lanka boast the No.2-ranked spinner in the world in Hasaranga - a 2021 that brought 20 wickets in 12 matches with an economy rate of 5.59, tells its own story - while in Maheesh Theekshana Sri Lanka have the latest from their production line of mystery spinners. Akila Dananjaya also provides experience and guile, even if he is yet to scale the heights he frequented prior to a change in bowling action.
"He [Hasaranga] has been amazing over the last two years, and now he's sitting in the No. 2 spot [in the rankings]. He's very hard to pick at times, because he bowls from a lower angle. Meanwhile, along with Wanindu, we also have Maheesh Theekshana - that's two young, exciting talents. Going forward I feel that they will do a really good job for the team."
Sri Lanka also have one final ace in their corner in Mahela Jayawardene, who recently took up a role as consultant coach. During his stint with Mumbai Indians in the IPL, Jayawardene has proven himself as one of the most tactically astute minds in world cricket, and Shanaka feels having him in his corner is proving invaluable.
"He's been amazing over the years, and tactically he's brilliant. As a captain, he's been giving me a lot of support in the field. For me, tactically he's the best in the business. He's been a real help to all of us."
Sri Lanka begin their T20 World Cup campaign against Namibia on 18 October.