Johannesburg: Sleepless nights appear to be in store for World Cup bowlers as Sri Lankan skipper Sanath Jayasuriya returns to his big-scoring ways.
The aggressive left-handed opener hammered back-to-back centuries to help his team thrash host Australia and England in last month's triangular series and reinforce the belief that Sri Lanka rarely loses when he fires with the bat. Though Sri Lanka failed to qualify for the final in Australia, its captain certainly gave a wake-up call to rival bowlers ahead of the World Cup. When on song, Jayasuriya can be as destructive as the Australian pair of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden or India's Sachin Tendulkar because he has the shots to demoralise any bowling attack. Jayasuriya was credited with redefining batting in the 1996 World Cup in India and Pakistan, especially in the opening 15 overs when the field restrictions require just two men outside the circle. He formed a devastating pair with fellow-opener Romesh Kaluwitharana and their bold over-the-top hitting surprised almost every team on slow pitches in the sub- continent.
The pair's performance, coupled with Arjuna Ranatunga's shrewd captaincy and coach Dav Whatmore's guidance, eventually helped Sri Lanka clinch its only World Cup. Jayasuriya, a 33-year-old veteran of 287 matches, again holds the key to his team's fortunes in South Africa, not only as a batsman but also as captain and left-arm spinner. He has been playing the triple-role for the past three years, achieving more success at home than abroad. He believes that a good start to the Cup will help his team better the overseas record.
"Starting the tournament well is crucial," said Jayasuriya, sixth-highest scorer in the world with 8,645 runs and 15 centuries. "The first game against New Zealand is an early opportunity to get the confidence going. New Zealanders will be tough opponents because they have some fine One-day players who are well suited to the conditions," he said. Sri Lanka needs a boost in confidence on hard and bouncy pitches, for it has won just two of its 11 matches on its last two tours of South Africa under Jayasuriya's captaincy.
But Sri Lanka posted a couple of memorable wins under him last year, clinching a triangular series in Morocco and then sharing the Champions Trophy at home with India following the rain-hit final. Jayasuriya may not be as authoritative as his predecessor, Ranatunga, but has still managed to mould a young side into a fighting outfit. The man from Matara is the most successful Sri Lankan captain, having led his team to a record nine successive Test victories at home last year. Sri Lanka's problems begin on tours as its batsmen often falter against fast bowling on pacy and bouncy wickets. Sri Lanka will look to Jayasuriya to show the way, for the captain has it in him to succeed on any surface.