Asian Lions upbeat despite early setback

Published: Sunday, March 11, 2007, 23:28 [IST]
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Bridgetown (Barbados):Sri Lanka arrived in the Caribbean with many canny observers talking up their chances of a second World Cup victory and even a final warm-up defeat by New Zealand will not have dented that optimism.

The winning team come April 28 at the Kensington Oval in Barbados will need, surely, to bat all the way down the order and bowl tightly on wickets which promise to be as slow as treacle and Sri Lanka have the assets to do just that.

Such a track was to be found at the 3Ws Oval just outside the bustling Barbadian capital where the 1996 winners played their two contrasting warm-up games this week.

When New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming called it ''tacky'' he hit the nail on the head; the pitch was so slow the ball virtually stuck to it before bouncing up invitingly for the batsmen to thwack for a boundary.

On such a featherbed for batsmen and such a bed of nails for the quicker bowlers, one could only feel for the luckless Sri Lanka seamers who toiled in the Caribbean sun while the Kiwis amassed 285 for eight.

That proved enough for an 18-run victory for New Zealand but captain Mahela Jayawardene was his usual cheerful, stoical self and hardly a man who had just watched his World Cup preparations go awry.

''That was a useful exercise for us,'' he told reporters. ''We lost - New Zealand batted really well, I thought - but learned plenty.''

Moisture factor: With matches starting throughout the tournament at 0930 local time (1330 GMT), one such lesson was to make the most of the early morning moisture with the ball.

Sri Lanka won the toss against the Kiwis and inserted them but failed to bowl that key line and length which would have tested their opposition outside the off stump.

Their veteran pacer Chaminda Vaas would surely have put the New Zealand openers far more under the microscope but he was excused on Friday, recovering from a bout of 'flu.

''We're not worried about him,'' Jayawardene assured the news conference. ''He'll be fit for the World Cup.''

Jayawardene also said he was unconcerned by the apparent ineffectiveness of his number one weapon in the field, Muttiah Muralitharan whose rubber-armed bowling action has accounted for 432 victims since he made his debut in 1993.

Muralitharan picked up only one wicket as he went for 64 runs from his 10 overs against the Kiwis and was hit for successive sixes by Peter Fulton. If he managed to extract much spin from the heartless pitch, it was not detectable from the stands.

''I'm not worried about Murali at all,'' said Jayawardene.

''He's been around a long time, he'll bounce back, don't worry.'' The captain's batting concerns look equally light on the evidence of the New Zealand match and the canter to victory against the hopelessly outclassed Scotland on the previous Monday.

Opener Upul Tharanga hit a sparkling century against New Zealand and Sri Lanka made runs freely all the way down the order. In fact, but for some profligate shots and a disastrous run out they could well have won.

A couple more lessons learned.

Whatever the result, all of Jayawardene's top-order men look in decent nick and, to say the least, not all the contenders for the trophy can say that at the outset of the competition.

Sri Lanka will play in Group B with 1983 champions India, Bangladesh and Bermuda. They begin with Bermuda on March 15 in Port of Spain, Trinidad.


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