August 20, 2002

Sri Lanka firm favourites on spinner friendly surface

Despite captain Sanath Jayasuriya's comments to the contrary, Sri Lanka remain firm favourites to win the final of the Morocco Cup 2002 on Wednesday.

Jayasuriya appeared uncomfortable with the favourites' label after his side's comfortable six-wicket defeat of South Africa on Monday, their third consecutive win.

"No, you can't say that we are favourites, South Africa can always come back," said Jayasuriya, wary of Sri Lanka having lost their last two Sharjah finals after dominating the group stages.

However, coach Dav Whatmore admitted that South Africa were now underdogs.

"Played four, won three - I suppose you could say that, but we've played them a lot in the past and we know what they are capable of. The conditions might be different but that's no reason to think it's your God-given right to win the final," Whatmore said.

The fact is that as this tournament has progressed, the conditions have increasingly favoured Sri Lanka's spin-based attack, which has been able to extract significant turn from the pitch.

Sri Lanka bowled 30 overs of spin in their last game, despite the absence of their star off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, and will consider playing just two fast bowlers in the final.

That would allow them to bolster their middle order, which has so far not been tested because of the form of Aravinda de Silva, who has won two Man-of-the-Match awards, and Jayasuriya, the tournaments highest run-scorer with 228 runs at 57.

By sharing ten overs between Jayasuriya, De Silva and Russel Arnold, Sri Lanka would be able to play Tillakaratne Dilshan at number seven.

But it's a difficult decision to make, with pace bowler Pulasthi Gunaratne, the one who would stand down, having taken four wickets in his last game.

South Africa captain Shaun Pollock is certainly keen to take early wickets, believing the key to winning will be to put pressure on the Sri Lankan middle order.

"At the moment the lower order has not really been tested, we have to make inroads upfront," said Pollock.

They will be targeting de Silva, who has nudged and nurdled his way to two match-winning unbeaten half-centuries against the Proteas.

"De Silva is the key, he is their rock that they are batting around at the moment," Pollock said.

And despite two comprehensive defeats, he remained upbeat about his side's chances.

"We know what we have to do - where we have gone wrong and improve," he said. "If we put that right I can't see why we can't win."

South Africa have been boosted by the news that Jacques Kallis will play a full part in the final, despite sustaining a knee injury during his 84 yesterday. Jonty Rhodes, suffering from a bruised finger, has also been given the all clear.

South Africa, though, are also faced with selection problems, particularly the identity of Pollock's new-ball partner.

Both Roger Telemachus and Mahkaya Ntini have proved expensive and appear unlikely to play, meaning Kallis takes the new ball and left-arm spinner Nicky Boje bowls his full quota of overs.

With only five specialist bowlers, Justin Ontong, who has thus far failed with the bat, may play ahead of left-handed batsmen Graeme Smith because of the back-up provided by his part-time spin.

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (Capt), Marvan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jaywardene, Russel Arnold, Aravinda de Silva, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Chandana, Hasantha Fernando, Chaminda Vaas, Chamila Lakshitha Gamage, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Pulasthi Gunaratne, Charitha Buddika Fernando.

South Africa: Shaun Pollock (Capt), Mark Boucher, Paul Adams, Nicky Boje, Boeta Dippenaar, Allan Donald, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Gary Kirsten, Lance Klusner, Makhaya Ntini, Justin Ontong, Jonty Rhodes, Graeme Smith, Roger Telemachus.