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Sanjay Manjrekar: Can Australia be beaten and if so which are the teams that can beat Australia?
Kumar Sangakkara: Everyone would love to think that there is a chink in Australia's armour. Every time they lose a match there is talk about their vulnerability. I would be insulted to not play Australia and have everyone say that they were not to their full strength. I would like to beat them when they are at their full strength. If you have a full strength Australian side and even if they are going to be the frontrunners then it's up to the rest of the sides to beat them. And that's a huge challenge and that's something you must enjoy trying to do rather than get discouraged by. The fact that they are at the start of maybe few more defeats than they are used to and it is an added impetus for the other sides. But it all depends on how they react to their losses - the tri-series in Australia (Commonwealth Bank series) and then the Chappell-Hadlee series in New Zealand. Australia usually come back hard from a setback. So either it might work for them or it might not.
SM: Kumar the World Cup just a few days away and you will be the right person to ask. Obviously the interest is Asia for all of us, how do you see the Asian teams performing in this World Cup, the venue is West Indies, it's a completely different land maybe closer to Sri Lanka with beaches and all that but for an Indian and Pakistani it's totally different. Could you just run down - Sri Lanka in West Indies in this World Cup, how do you look at Sri Lanka as a contender?
KS: I think we are going to be strong contenders, not just to boast the fact that I am a Sri Lankan and I would want to win at such a big event.
SM: (laughs) I am sure you have a very good reason for that.
KS: (laughs) I think the Asian attitude has changed a lot towards fast bowling a lot in the past years, and Asians are not good travellers when it comes to playing abroad. But we have realised very much that if you are going to be recognised as a good team then you have to be a good team when you tour. It's useless winning day in and day out at home but you are never going to be put in the same class as the team that wins away from home. We have worked on that and the key to that is having a good balanced bowling attack, we have always had good batsmen. Technically, the Asians are very sound and I find this theory of the bouncing ball troubling Asians is a myth because if you are good enough with your technique then you are good enough on any pitch.
When the pitch has more bounce the Asians bat better and it's got to do with how we have managed to change the pace bowling balance in our sides - we are now comfortable playing three or four pace bowlers. Pakistan has always had that, but when it comes to the other Asian teams, especially Sri Lanka and India, it's a new thing. I think a lot is being said about West Indian pitches but you can't predetermine what it's going to do.
I think from a Sri Lanka perspective the change in our bowling attack is going to be our biggest plus there. We have picked five fast bowlers, one of them bowls 150 plus and Dilhara (Fernando) bowls 140 plus and that's a fantastic combination with Chaminda Vaas who bowls at 125-130 but lands the ball on the coin.
SM: The slowest bowler is perhaps the most dangerous as well?
KS: He is the most dangerous. To have that variation in our attack gives us lot of confidence going in. We have confidence in our batting to play one batsman less and go in with four fast bowlers. Now we have changed our perspectives and that's going to add a lot of quality to our play.
SM: You are getting a little excited when you are talking about the fast bowlers, which is a change because Sri Lanka has always been about slow medium pace and spinners. When I meant the slowest bowlers, I meant Murali.
SM: You have got your four fast bowlers or five fast bowlers that you are pretty excited about. [But] Murali, how do you look at him?
KS: Murali, he is a genius.
SM: In West Indies, on those pitches?
KS: On any pitch, even if I am playing on a cement pitch I would back Murali to pick up wickets for me and bowl miserly spells. In the past Murali has been a bit expensive in one dayers, I reckon, because of the fact that we look at him to take wickets for us all the time.
SM: Is that the job specification for him that he has to look at taking wickets?
KS: It has been, so he has been bowling with lot of attacking fields. Pitches are getting better and batsmen are getting used to trying to attack even one of Murali's class but that doesn't mean that he is any less of a bowler. I think he is a much better bowler right now, he has got the experience and the intelligence and the variety to trouble anyone on any pitch. So when we get our fast bowling right and they are attacking and getting us the wickets we need upfront, then Murali's job can go back to the old spinners' job and that is of containment which he does brilliantly well.
SM: Which is the one that he likes in one-day cricket - the wicket-taking role or containment role?
KS: I think it's got to be the containment role but we have the advantage of him being the best spinner in the world, so if we want wickets then we can attack with him. We have that luxury; we can get him in that containment role then it's going to be fantastic because then the batsmen will have to take chances against Murali and that's going to get him wickets.
SM: Let's move to individuals now, you are a batsman yourself and you are in great form and you will probably hit headlines more times than others but your pick of batsmen who will leave a mark in this World Cup?
KS: Sanath Jayasuriya for one, probably this will be his last World Cup. When you watch a person like Sanath bat, you always think he's an unconventional, unique player, huge amounts of power; I have watched him in my six years in the national team and I have seen how much he works on his technique. Little things - he has changed his grip, he has changed his stance, has changed his initial movements over the years, his head position, stepping out and he has gone through phases where he has fine tuned every little thing. The final result - it looks as if he is a natural cricketer but he is a guy who has worked immensely on his technique to have that little base which lets him exploit and he will be really focused to make sure that he goes out in a blaze of glory.
SM: And when he bats well in the World Cup, Sri Lanka wins the World Cup.
KS: Forty five runs per innings from him makes us win 75 percent of time, which is an amazing statistic. And that's what we look forward from him. To give us that start and now we know that if he gets that start he more often goes on to make that big score rather than getting out in 40s or 50s and that's great for us.
KS: Obvious choice (laughs). Obvious choice.
SM: What about somebody like Lasith Malinga. Huge hero after the World Cup, possible? Has he got it in him along with the pace?
KS: I think he has got it in him. Just because he knows what he can do and what he can't do. We don't expect from him little seaming balls, to land it on a coin and move it around. That's not what he does and he knows that. And he knows that we back him to what he does best - bowl fast and get batsmen out. First World Cup, and you have so much to achieve if you really want it. He has got the enthusiasm, very positive guy, different, unique but very positive and we feed off him quite a lot when we play. So he has a lot to achieve.