Sri Lanka captain Upul Tharanga backed his side to uphold the island’s proud World Cup record after their automatic qualification for the 2019 edition in Britain was assured by West Indies’ seven-wicket loss to England on Tuesday.
With September 30 set as the cut-off date for automatic qualification for the International Cricket Council’s showpiece 50-over tournament, two-time champions West Indies (78 points) now cannot move ahead of Sri Lanka (86 points) in the ODI team rankings regardless of other results in the remainder of their five-match series in England.
As a result, 1996 World Cup winners Sri Lanka — also the losing finalists in 2007 and 2011 — have become the eighth and last team to qualify directly, joining Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa.
The confirmation that Sri Lanka had gained direct entry to the next World Cup came after their recent hammering at home to India in all three formats, the visitors winning Test and one-day series 3-0 and 5-0 respectively before triumphing by seven wickets in a lone Twenty20 international earlier this month.
“It’s no secret that we have been going through a tough time,” said relieved Sri Lanka ODI skipper Tharanga in an ICC statement released shortly after England’s win in a day/night clash in Manchester.
“But I want to say a big, big thank you to our fans who’ve kept faith with us when things looked bleak.”
He added: “ICC events have always brought out the magic in Sri Lanka cricket, and I look forward to proving that once again.
“We have a clear plan toward the World Cup, and we will work hard at achieving each step.
“I know you will see Sri Lanka’s special brand of cricket out there once again soon.”
Only a 5-0 series win or 4-0 with a tie or no-result against England would have seen West Indies pip Sri Lanka before the cut-off point.
But having failed to qualify for the elite Champions Trophy tournament in Britain earlier this year, West Indies suffered a 13th defeat in their last 14 completed ODIs against England in the series opener at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
“We knew it was always going to be a tough ask,” said West Indies batting coach Toby Radford after a convincing loss.
“But we are very positive as a group and we are trying to develop in all our formats of cricket, so every game that comes now we will be positive and if that means qualifiers next year, it’s qualifiers next year and we’ll build our way back up.”
West Indies, who won the first two World Cups — both staged in England — in 1975 and 1979, could still take part in the main 10-team 2019 tournament if they are one of the top two sides in next year’s qualifying competition.
That event, also featuring 10 teams, will see West Indies joined by the bottom three sides in the ODI rankings — Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland — as well as the top four sides from the ICC World Cricket League and the top two from Division Two of the WCL.
The next World Cup, the fifth to be staged in Britain, takes place from May 30-July 15 2019.