Johannesburg: Less than a month ago nothing went right for Sri Lanka on the cricket field. Now it can do no wrong as World Cup rivals are finding out to their dismay. Sanath Jayasuriya's men began the tournament with a 47-run win over New Zealand before bulldozing Bangladesh and Canada so convincingly that records tumbled like nine pins.
The nine-wicket romp over Canada at Paarl on Wednesday lasted just two hours and 23.3 overs, the shortest in the 28-year-old history of the World Cup. Before that, left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas grabbed a hat-trick with the first three balls of the match against Bangaldesh and added a fourth wicket with the fifth delivery. Sri Lanka is clearly a different side from the one that suffered heavy defeats in both Test and One-day cricket on tours of South Africa and Australia over the last four months.
The lowest point came when it was shot out for 65 by Australia's second string in a One-day practice match. As the host won easily in the first session itself, officials ordered another 25-overs-a-side game to be played after the break. Jayasuriya's men lost that one too. Sri Lanka, World Cup champion in 1996, came to South Africa having won just two of its 11 One-dayers in this country. Now it has won three in-a-row with no signs of slowing down. Jayasuriya attributes the sudden change in fortunes to the time spent in South Africa and Australia before the World Cup.
"We don't get these sort of wickets in Sri Lanka. Playing in these conditions for three months, both here and in Australia, we have got used to them and know what to expect," the dashing left-hander said. "Everyone in the side knows the conditions. That's a big help and that's why we are playing such good cricket." Sri Lanka sits proudly on top of group 'B' with three straight wins and will qualify for the Super Sixes if it beats Kenya at Nairobi on February 24 - even before the key games against heavyweights West Indies and South Africa. But Jayasuriya, displaying the confidence that comes with winning, insisted he would not be happy just qualifying for the next round.
"We want the top the group and take forward as many points into the Super Six. Which means it is important to beat both the West Indies and South Africa," he said. The destruction of Canada and the early finish did not happen just by chance. The Sri Lankans had planned a heavy victory to improve their run rate. "The situation in our group is such that we needed to win well and improve our net run rate," Jayasuriya said.
"With four teams in the fray, it could boil down to who has a better run-rate. We were aware of that when we went into the game against Canada." The win pushed Sri Lanka's net run rate to a healthy 3.17 from the previous day's 2.10. The captain himself has led from the front with a century and half-century in the first two matches, backed by superb bowling from Vaas. "The entire team is focussed on the job at hand. We help each other out both on and off the field.
The batsmen and bowlers have stuck to the task, that's why we have been able to make a winning start," he said. Jayasuriya, however, would not let complacency set in. "One wrong move and the World Cup could be over for us," he said. "We should not be concerned at what is happening to other teams. The aim is to win all our games." Copyright AFP 2001