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February 13, 2012
There was a time when you dialled Sri Lanka to knock India out of big competitions. They did that famously in the 1996 and 2007 World Cups. They beat India in the Asia Cup in 2008. They knocked India out of the World Twenty20 in the West Indies in 2010. At some time, though, the two teams' administrations became too friendly, and started making the teams play against each other every other day. The sting was taken out of the contest, and familiarity bred some insipidness. That India have been dominating their neighbours of late would be an apt assessment.
Sri Lanka want that edge against India back, especially in matches outside India. A day before their second game in the triangular against India, Kumar Sangakkara said India were vulnerable when playing them in neutral venues. "Our strength has always been playing India away from India," Sangakkara said. "India are always strong in India, with the smaller grounds and conditions they are used to. But away from home we have always done very well against them."
That may be true in neutral venues in Asia, where Sri Lanka have a 7-2 win-loss record against India since 1999 (in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sharjah), but outside Asia India have thoroughly dominated: they hold an 8-1 advantage in that period, with their only defeat coming in a rain-reduced game in Canberra in 2008. For that record to improve, Sri Lanka will have to start batting better. Their bowlers and fielders did a stellar job in Perth against Australia, but the batsmen messed up a chase of 232.
"I think it was close only because Angelo Mathews really got us there in the end," Sangakkara said. "There was a time when we were out of it. It was a case of not building enough partnerships, and losing too many wickets too soon. It is a wicket that was quite flat in the end. We couldn't just capitalise on the opportunity. Once you have restricted them to 230, it's a case of having enough batsmen in the shed by the time you hit the 40th over. We didn't do that."
There are issues in the batting department that will need urgent resolving despite the good form of youngster Dinesh Chandimal. Upul Tharanga is pushing tamely outside off, much like Gautam Gambhir did at the start of the tour. Lahiru Thirimanne at No. 6 hasn't brought much value to the side so far. Sangakkara said the side hadn't made any decisions around those players' future in the tournament. Sri Lanka have long struggled with that one middle-order position with neither Chamara Silva nor Chamara Kapugedera taking the opportunities they were given.
One man who did bring value to that role, especially on tough pitches, as seen recently in South Africa, is out again. Thilan Samaraweera must more be wondering what he needs to do to be part of this team. A few of his team-mates might think that way, but can't comment much on selection issues. All Sangakkara could say of Samaraweera was: "I am not part of the selection committee. That's not a question for me, but he has done extremely well."
Those issues, and many others with the administration, are for another day. Sangakkara said that once the team is on the field, they forget all that. "The greatest thing as a player is to be able to play," Sangakkara said. "Whatever troubles you have off the field, whatever issues you have off the field, when you are on the park I don't think anyone thinks of those things."
It will be a mighty fine job if Sri Lanka can manage to do well despite those issues. And they know time is running out. They also know they should have ideally won one game by now. Now, though, they face the prospect of having to win four out of six games. "You have got to win a minimum of four games to have any chance of qualifying for the finals," Sangakkara said. "Tomorrow is another opportunity."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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