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Sri Lanka a team to watch out for in World Cup

Published: Monday, February 19, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
 
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New Delhi:Sri Lanka will be keen to maintain their recently-acquired reputation of doing consistently well away from home when they begin their World Cup campaign in the Caribbean.

None of the three other sub-continent sides can match the impressive record of Mahela Jayawardene's Sri Lankans, who won more than 50 percent of their one-day internationals in 2006.

That included a rare 5-0 whitewash in England and a shared series in New Zealand.

Those results underline the fact that Sri Lanka will not be a soft side in the one-day extravaganza although they would have received a wake-up call by their 2-1 defeat in India earlier this month.

It is a nice blend of experience and youth that has made Sri Lanka a team to watch out for in the tournament, especially under Australian coach Tom Moody who knows a thing or two about World Cup having figured in three editions.

Sri Lanka's strength still is batting but their bowling has improved considerably recently, with Lasith Malinga capable of doing unpredictable things with the new ball.

They were always considered a two-bowler team of left-arm paceman Chaminda Vaas and ace off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan who have a total of 802 wickets between them in one-dayers.

Things have changed now as Malinga, a bowler with a deceptive round-arm action, has given his team more options with his consistency, a fact admitted by his captain.

"Malinga has given a different dimension to our overall bowling attack. The attacking options have become more," said Jayawardene.

"We have 'Vassy' who takes early wickets. Murali is in the middle and Malinga becomes another attacking option upfront as well as in the middle overs. He is pretty good in the last few overs as well.

"We are stronger in bowling than when I first came into the team. Now we have a bowling attack that would suit any wicket anywhere in the world. We are in better situation because our pace bowling has improved."

Sri Lanka's batting remains as versatile as ever.

They have explosive left-handed openers in veteran Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga who can demoralise any attack.

Jayasuriya, 37, is no stranger to the big event as he will be playing in his fifth, and probably the last, World Cup. He is the only Sri Lankan to have completed 10,000 runs in one-dayers.

Tharanga's emergence as an exciting stroke-maker means that there will be fireworks from both the ends. He made a strong statement in the last Champions Trophy in India with back-to-back centuries.

There will be no respite for the opposition as wicketkeeper-batsman Kumar Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan are capable of stepping up the run-rate in the middle order.

Sri Lanka should not face any difficulty in advancing to the next round from Group B, which comprises India, an inconsistent Bangladesh and first-timers Bermuda. The top two teams will make it to the next stage.

"What we've got to recognise is that a number of teams are going into this World Cup with very high expectations," said Moody.

"You look at South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India. All these sides are pretty evenly-matched, particularly on neutral territory.

"We as a group feel very confident going into this World Cup. My focus and the team's must not be the World Cup, but the first game we play in the Caribbean. The most important game we play is our first which is in Trinidad."

His team open their campaign against Bermuda on March 15.

Sri Lanka, who played the first two World Cups as a non-Test-playing nation, were the champions in 1996 and semi-finalists in 2003.

AFP

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