Rejuvenated Lanka hold edge over depleted Pak

Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Jaipur:Odds favour a rejuvenated Sri Lanka as they take on a depleted and shell-shocked Pakistan in their crucial ICC Champions Trophy match here today but the Islanders are not taking their rivals lightly given the past history.

The Pakistanis are upset and stunned after their two pace spearheads Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid Nandrolone and were sent home, leaving them down to 12 men for the Group B match against a rampant Sri Lanka, who are coming off three wins in as many games in the qualifying round of the tournament that ended in Mumbai on Oct 15.

Though the team management put a brave face about the fiasco, it is clear that Pakistan now face an even tougher task against the in-form Lankans, who have the additional benefit of having gotten used to the unexpectedly warm weather, though they have not played here in the tournament yet.

Pakistan have not played any active cricket since returning from England in the wake of the Inzamam-ul Haq vs Darrell Hair controversy that erupted during the fourth Test at the Oval. That was followed by a four-match ban on the Pakistan skipper, more controversy over his successor and thereafter the removal of the then Pakistan Cricket Board chairman, Shahrayar Khan.

For their part, the Sri Lankans have cruised through their opening three games here - winning all of them by handsome margins.

They beat Bangladesh in the tournament opener at Mohali, routed Zimbabwe at Ahmedabad and then rolled over the Windies in Mumbai.

Individually too, they have come good in numbers. Farveez Maharoof's 6/14 that destroyed Brian Lara's men on a low and slow CCI pitch two days ago is only one of the standout performances from the islanders, who must now be counted as the tournament's dark horses.

Left-handed opener Upul Tharanga hit centuries in the first two games and at Mumbai, it was the turn of Sanath Jayasuriya and skipper Mahela Jayawardene to stand up and be counted after failing against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Muttiah Muralitharan has been having a relatively quiet tournament so far, but it is only a matter of time before he comes into his own. And given the conditions that prevail here, he will be a handful - as Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar showed against England.

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer tried to play down the effect of missing the two key bowlers on the team.

''The captain and I are disappointed that this has happened, but I am pretty confident that the team will take the adversity in their stride and rise to the occasion. I am sure we will play good, competitive cricket against Sri Lanka,'' Woolmer said.

Pakistan will now look to the batsmen to bail them out of a potentially disastrous situation. It could also well be that - like Woolmer and Younis Khan hope - the rest will indeed rise to the occasion and provide a real contest in today's game, but there is no taking away from the fact that the departure of Shoaib and Asif will hang over the Pakistanis.

Skipper Younis added, ''We have to face it and move on. I think it could have been worse had it come during the tournament. But I am still positive and confident of a good performance. It is tough, but it also makes me stronger. I think we have the replacements and won't face any problems today. The question is not about winning or losing. Our aim is to play good cricket.''

As in India-England game, the toss could be a factor though in the end it was a close call between batting first or bowling, as India's slowing run-chase showed.

The match will be a test of chracters for both the teams, for the Pakistanis they will have to show that they have over come the stigma of drug scandal while the Islanders need to prove that their recent run of victories were no fluke.

Shoaib and Asif might have hogged the limelight for all the wrong reasons but this game gives a chance to players like Umar Gul, Rao Ifthikhar and Naved ul Hassan to seize the oppourtunity. And on the other side Muthiah Muralitharan gets the chance to redeem himself after his team's not too impressive showing on this ground against India last year.


Pakistan: Younis Khan (captain), Mohammad Yousuf (vice-captain), Abdul Razzaq, Faisal Iqbal, Iftikhar Anjum, Imran Farhat, Kamran Akmal (wk), Mohammad Hafeez, Naved-ul-Hasan, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Umar Gul

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Marvan Atapattu, Malinga Bandara, Tillakratne Dilshan, Dilhara Fernando, Sanath Jayasuriya, Chamara Kapugedera, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Murali Muralitharan, Ruchira Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Upul Tharanga, Chaminda Vaas

Umpires: Simon Taufel and Billy Bowden Third Umpire: Steve Bucknor Fourth Umpire: Daryl Harper

Referee: J Crowe


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