Sri Lanka has had a special bond with the ICC World Cup. Be it Arjuna Ranatunga guiding his team to a memorable title win at the 1996 edition or be it the Islanders reaching the final and bowing out despite making that far in 2007 and 2011, it’s safe to say that the Lankans have been one of the entertaining sides in this competition.

But when the 2019 edition of the World Cup gets underway in England this summer, a big bunch will be sceptical before throwing their weight behind this sub-continental powerhouse. And for some good reason.

The team led by Dimuth Karunaratne in the 50-over format has endured a treacherous run since their quarterfinal exit in the 2015 World Cup. In the 84 ODIs that they have played since 2015, the Lankans have won just 23 (27.38 per cent) games, and to make things worse, 16 of those victories have come in the sub-continent, a region that they are expected to perform better, and just seven outside.

The team has not won an ODI series since their win in the Tri-nation series hosted by Bangladesh in January 2018, and moreover, are winless in their last eight ODIs, a period that saw them being whitewashed by New Zealand and South Africa away from home.

One of the primary problems that has hampered the Islanders’ progress is their inability to score big. Against the Proteas, they could barely manage to get past the 200-run mark, let alone the 300 mark, something that’s become a norm in modern day cricket. Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera are the only batsmen who have managed some respectable scores in the past year or so with the majority finding it difficult to find their feet against quality bowling attack.

AFP / Geoff Caddick

While their batting has struggled to get going, the bowling department too doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Lankan bowling unit, led by an aging Lasith Malinga, failed to fire in any of the five ODIs against South Africa, with only the likes of Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendia and Malinga himself showing some glimpses of ‘what-could-have-been’ throughout the series.

There’s no doubt that a lot will ride on the experience of players like Malinga and Mathews at the World Cup. If they are to continue their form, the Lankans might have some chance of making it to the top tier of the 10-team competition. But more than their performance on the pitch, it’s their experience of playing in a tournament as big as the World Cup that will count for much. "There is no doubt that Malinga is one of the best in the world, and the best in Sri Lanka,” one of Lankan legends Chaminda Vass said speaking to ICC. “We depend on him as a bowler, and he showed his leadership qualities.

“He has given 100 per cent for the team. We have seen him playing in Mumbai (in Indian T20 League) on one day and playing in Sri Lanka (in a domestic tournament) the next day. It shows the commitment he has, and the commitment he has to the team and the country. He will be the key for Sri Lanka cricket in the upcoming World Cup.”

While, on the face of it, it might not be a good time to good time to throw your weight behind Sri Lanka, but then, what’s sports without an underdog story.