Champions Trophy, 2006 October 1, 2006

Sri Lanka focus on qualifying matches

Cricinfo staff

'Bowling is crucial in these conditions. I think spinners will play a key role' Jayawardene says ahead of the Champions Trophy © AFP

Cricket fans in India will see a vastly improved Sri Lanka in the upcoming Champions Trophy one-day tournament, Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, predicted.

Sri Lanka's pride was severely dented when they toured India last October, losing 6-1 in a one-day series against the Indians.

"We have learnt from our mistakes," said Jayawardene. "When we came here last time, we faced initial difficulties following new rules [PowerPlay and super sub] which gave so much importance to the toss, but I think we have improved since then."

Tom Moody, Sri Lankan coach, echoed the same sentiments. "A lot of water has gone down the bridge since then. We are not the same team that visited India last time. We are now a better, stronger unit," Moody said. "A lot of young guys have come and done well in international cricket. There is a significant improvement, especially in fielding."

The Indian drubbing also saw Sri Lanka slip in the rankings. They were not among the top six sides, who have been given direct entry into the Champions Trophy main draw based on rankings in April this year.

Sri Lanka will now play qualifying matches against defending champions West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. The top two teams will join the elite six. They open their campaign on October 7 against Bangladesh at Mohali.

"The focus now is on playing qualifying matches which will help our players adjust to Indian conditions before the main tournament starts," said Moody.

Sri Lanka are looking forward to a better performance from their bowlers on low, slow Indian tracks. "Bowling is crucial in these conditions," said Jayawardene. "I think spinners will play a key role, but it is also necessary for fast bowler to vary pace. The batsmen need to apply themselves."

Sri Lanka are a team in form, having drawn a tough Test series 1-1 and won 5-0 in one-dayers in England recently.

When asked about the secret of their recent successes, Jayawardene said: "There is no secret, only hard work. The challenge now is to keep the momentum going."

Jayawardene played a vital role in his team's victories in England, scoring 328 runs in five one-dayers. "It's nice to be in form," he said. "I now have a regular batting slot which has given me a lot of freedom. It was a bit difficult to be consistent in the initial years [of my career] when I had no fixed batting place."

Jayawardene said Marvan Atapattu's return from an injury and Sanath Jayasuriya's current form auger well for the team. "Marvan's return is a bonus. He is an experienced batsman and has given us more options. It is also good to see Sanath in good form. He is a great asset."

Jayawardene, however, declined to pick winners, saying every team was focused. "Playing any team is a challenge in this tournament. Any team can win. Just remember how the West Indies came from nowhere to lift the trophy [in England] last time," he said.