ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 42

Tough times ahead, but we are confident

Even if Sri Lanka’s opening game in the World Cup against Bermuda was not billed by the media as the hottest of contests we in the Sri Lankan team viewed the match as a very important encounter. This was the game that would set the pace for the tournament proper and it was also the last game before the tougher opponents came along.

It must have been a difficult task for the tour selectors to name the final playing eleven with everyone playing well and no one being sidelined due to injuries. Finally a combination of seven batsmen and four bowlers was decided upon. Having sat out the game against New Zealand, I was called upon to open the innings with Upul (Tharanga).

Chamara is likely to emerge as a key player in the tournament.

Mahela (Jayewardene) had no hesitation in choosing to bat on winning the toss. Having to open the batting I was looking forward to a good outing but the first over had other prospects in store. After two bonus deliveries of no-balls, the seventh delivery of the day from Kevin Hurdle- rose sharply and hit me on the left index finger.

The blow was painful enough but it had also done some damage, splitting the nail bed. I resumed batting after the wound was attended to and was keen not to let the injury cramp my style. I am happy with the twenty two runs I made, because I made them quickly and I was able to overcome the handicap of the bandaged finger too.

The wound itself is not serious and I expect it will be healed by next Thursday, when we play Bangladesh. However, bowling may be somewhat difficult because it is hard to get a good grip on the ball. Since the next game is several days away, there may still be time for a full recovery. But this perhaps was the only drawback of the day. When Upul was also dismissed for 30 with the score at 78, Mahela and Kumar (Sangakkara) set about building the innings with a steady partnership.

It was an important partnership in the context of the game, because it took the match away from Bermuda but it was especially so for Mahela. As I stated last week, it was only a matter of time before Mahela discovered his form and fluency and the entire team was delighted that he could do so in the game against Bermuda.

Mahela occupied the crease for over two hours and it was a good innings characterised by some exquisite and delicate strokes which Mahela is famous for. We always knew Mahela would bounce back but it is good to be able to do so during the early stages of the tournament.

Kumar was his usual self stroking yet another half-century but I was very impressed with Chamara Silva. Chamara was able to work the ball in the right areas, reinforcing the middle order. If he continues in this vein, he is likely to emerge as a key player in the tournament.

We were quite satisfied with our total of 321, because it enabled the top five batsmen to bat for long periods allowing them time to adjust to the conditions. This is important in a tournament such as this when the games are spread over a period of time and players have to retain their focus and concentration.

When Bermuda batted, the bowlers were able to have a go, and with good results too. Maha (Farveez Maharoof) bagged four wickets and (Lasith) Malinga grabbed three but Murali was also among the wickets and Vaasey conceded less than two runs per over demonstrating an excellent line and length throughout his spell.

Murali and Vaasey did not tour India but they are the two most experienced bowlers in the squad-and indeed are among the most experienced in this World Cup- and they demonstrated that the rest and net practice they had in Colombo was bringing them to peak form.

In the previous game against New Zealand, one area of concern was the large number of wides and no balls conceded. On Thursday however, we restricted ourselves to just three wides and no no-balls were bowled.

Our opponents may have been a non-test playing country but even so, I think it was an impressive overall performance as reflected by the margin of victory: 243 runs. It was also a game where we ironed out our problems and performed to near perfection. We are still not quite certain about the state of the wickets in the West Indies which will be a crucial factor in the tournament. What is predictable is that the wickets have a lot of dew in the mornings. So far, batting has not been difficult but we have experienced uneven bounce occasionally.

We now have nearly a week before the next game, against Bangladesh. That too will be played at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad, a beautiful ground where a new pavillion is set against the scenic background of mountains.

There is no travelling, at least until the next two games, and all four teams in Group B-Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Bermuda-are staying at the Trinidad Hilton.

The team is engaging in a well co-ordinated routine: their time is spent in training as well as in visits to the pool and the beach, with ‘recovery sessions’ and extra activities being overseen by our trainers. The boys are relaxed and confident and at the same time quite aware of their responsibilities.

We are all looking forward to the Bangladesh game. It will be a tough match, as New Zealand discovered, being defeated by the Bangladeshis in their warm-up game. We are certain that Bangladesh will offer a good contest and therefore we are determined to play to our highest potential.

That game will be followed by the game against India with only a day between them. India is seen as being among the favourites in the running for the World Cup and if we could win that match, it will not only help us top Group B, but also earn us valuable points which we will carry to the next round. More importantly, it will give us enormous confidence as we head for the next stage of the tournament. It is a challenge that we look forward to.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.