World Cup Preview
Trio to lead Sri Lanka’s challenge
By Ezra Stuart
Guyana Chronicle
January 24, 2003

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INSPIRATIONAL captain Sanath Jayasuriya, veteran batsman Aravinda de Silva and spinning sensation Muttiah Muralitharan are almost certain to hold the keys to Sri Lanka’s fortunes in the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.

The performances of this trio will undoubtedly decide whether Sri Lanka, with 9-2 odds, can add a second title to their 1996 World Cup triumph when the world’s premier one-day tournament starts on February 9.

But there is also a solid supporting cast with the likes of left-arm swing bowler Chaminda Vaas, dependable opener Marvan Atapattu, rising batting star Mahela Jayawardene and improving wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara, who can star on the big stage.

Looking at the pure statistical evidence, Jayasuriya is among the best all-rounders in one-day cricket with 15 centuries in 8 645 runs (average 32.13); 234 wickets (ave: 35.88; economy rate: 4.81 RPO) and 94 catches.

Whereas Jayasuriya, boasting a strike rate of 89.85, is known for jump-starting the Sri Lanka innings with his explosive attacking left-handed batting, the experienced 37-year-old de Silva will be the stabiliser in the middle order.

de Silva, who has hit 11 centuries and 62 fifties in an aggregate of 9 017 runs in 298 ODIs, is familiar with that role having guided Sri Lanka to their historic World Cup triumph with a polished century against Australia in the 1996 final at Lahore.

Support for Jayasuriya and de Silva in the batting department will come from the stylish Atapattu, Jayawardene, veteran Hashan Tillekeratne, and the reliable Russel Arnold and Sangakkara.

Atapattu has eight ODI centuries under his belt in 5 964 runs in 180 matches at a commendable average of 37.98 and Jayawardene has hit six centuries while amassing 3 586 runs at an average of 32.01 in 131 matches.

Left-hander Arnold has also been reliable, averaging 38.09 with the bat in scoring 2 705 runs in 109 ODIs while 35-year-old Tillekeratne has scored 3 526 runs in 188 ODIs.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankans have opted for Sangakkara instead of the attacking Romesh Kaluwitharana, who, along with Jayasuriya, created a stir at the 1996 World Cup with his ‘pinch-hitting’ in the first 15 overs of the innings.

Whereas the top-order batting has a healthy look, Sri Lanka have a fragile tail and the bowling attack is heavily dependent on the wily off-spinner Muralitharan, Vaas and to a lesser extent, Jayasuriya.

Muralitharan is the third highest wicket-taker in One-Day Internationals with 304 scalps in 203 matches at an average of 23.10 and an economy rate of 3.83 runs per over.

Vaas has also been quite successful in the abbreviated game with 255 wickets in 210 ODIs at an average of 28.28 at a commendable economy rate of 4.23 runs an over.

Vaas should have Dilhara Fernando, who has 64 wickets in 45 matches, as his new ball partner while others like Pulasthi Gunaratne, Prabath Nissanka and Buddika Fernando are still learning the one-day trade.

With so many rookies in the bowling department, Vaas, Muralitharan, Jayasuriya and even de Silva, who has taken 97 ODI wickets at an economy rate of 4.97 runs an over, will need to be right on target to ensure the Sri Lankan batsmen have reasonable targets to chase.

Apart from relatively ill-disciplined bowling, the Sri Lankans have been very sloppy in the outfield, allowing several chances to go a-begging and this could be very crucial in the pressurised World Cup environment.

Drawn in a tough Pool ‘B’ alongside heavyweights South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies, plus minnows Bangladesh, Canada, and Kenya, a keen battle awaits Sri Lanka in their bid to qualify for the Super Six stage.

With only three teams from each group of six advancing to the next stage, one of the four favoured teams -- South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies and Sri Lanka -- from Pool ‘B’ will miss out on qualifying for the Super Six stage.

The Sri Lankans have certainly come a long way from the whipping boys in their first World Cup appearance in 1975 when they lost all of their matches, to be one of the most exciting one-day teams in the world.

They were rewarded for innovative and imaginative approach to limited overs cricket with victory in the 1996 World Cup under the shrewd leadership of the heavy-set Arjuna Ranatunga.

But did not quite live up to expectations when they defended the title in the 1999 tournament in England. This time around, they will be quite upbeat as their respected coach Dav Whatmore, is back with the squad.

They have had mixed results over the past year, defeating South Africa by 27 runs in the final of the Morocco Cup and sharing the title with India in the ICC Champions Trophy last September when a monsoon downpour caused the final to be abandoned.

Sri Lanka’s inconsistency was manifested when South African pounded them 4-1 in December while they lost six of eight matches in another dismal showing in this month’s triangular VB series in Australia where the host country and England have qualified for the final.

The only consolation for the beleaguered Sri Lankans was de Silva becoming only the third batsman to reach 9 000 runs in one-day internationals behind the Indian duo of Sachin Tendulkar (11 546) and Mohammad Azharuddin (9 378).

It has definitely not been the ideal springboard for their World Cup preparations, both on and off the field with the players receiving hardly any rest between their tour of South Africa and the visit to Australia.

Even before heading to South Africa for the World Cup, the players must now settle a contract dispute with the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka over a payment issue to compensate for any losses they may incur on advertising until 2007.

The players are demanding 20 per cent of the cricket board’s guaranteed income of 6.4 million dollars for the World Cup but the BCCSL has said it cannot afford more than 10 per cent, plus an incentive fee without jeopardising the development of younger players.

Once this dispute is resolved and the Sri Lankans put the disappointing recent one-day results in South Africa and Australia behind them, they must then put the wheels back on the wagon and go after the biggest prize in one-day cricket.

Squad: Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Marvan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara, Aravinda de Silva, Mahela Jayawardene, Russel Arnold, Hashan Tillekeratne, Buddika Fernando, Chaminda Vaas, Jehan Mubarak, Muttiah Muralitharan, Prabath Nissanka, Pulasthi Gunaratne, Dilhara Fernando, Avishka Gunawardene.

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