Sri Lanka aim for emphatic win
The margin of defeat in the first game of the Champions Trophy - 37 runs - as Bangladesh succumbed to Sri Lanka was not an accurate reflection of the match as a competition. Sri Lanka had played their opponents well out of the game, and it was only a last-minute dash from Mashrafe Mortaza, heaving the bat merrily for 30, that took Bangladesh towards their target. Sri Lanka probably won't have to worry about a repeat of that happening at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in Ahmedabad, as they take on Zimbabwe.
Again, it's not going to be every day that Zimbabwe are rolled over as badly as they were - for only 85 by West Indies - so fans will be hoping to get a bit more from the game. And there's no reason why that hope should go unfounded. The likes of Stuart Matsikenyeri and Brendan Taylor, if they get going, should ensure that the team does not collapse for sub-100 totals in consecutive games.
The dilemma for Sri Lanka is an unusual one. Despite recent runs of form that has seen them brush aside teams with a confidence and nous reminiscent of Sri Lankan teams of the late nineties where they won virtually every tournament, there has been the suggestion that they were a bit short of match practice. This seemed to be the case in the first game against Bangladesh where the bowling was undisciplined and they did not go for the kill when they had the opposition on the mat.
When they take on Zimbabwe, they will be hoping to win the toss, if only so they can have a bat. That would ensure that they at least got some batting practice in, and maybe then, in the face of a huge total, Zimbabwe would spend some time at the crease, giving Sri Lanka's bowlers a chance to get through their paces. On the contrary, if they chose to bowl, there's every chance that Zimbabwe could be shot out cheaply - Sri Lanka have dismissed them for 150 or less as many as six times, twice horribly, for 38 and 35.
"If we win the toss we'll be batting or bowling, not on the basis of the opposition, but on the basis of conditions and the gameplan," Tom Moody, the coach of the Sri Lankan team, insisted on the eve of the match. "If the wicket's dry and it looks like it's going to be best to bat on first, then we'll do that."
Mahela Jayawardene, leading the side though Marvan Atapattu is back in the mix after recovering from a back injury, for his part, did not rule out some players being rested as they continued with a rotation policy to keep players fresh. "We might think of rotating a few guys," he said. "We haven't finalised that yet, and we'll do that after we have a good look at the wicket. We don't have too many options, only 14 guys here, so depending on what the team needs we'll think about it."
There's really only one way tomorrow's match can unfold as a thriller - if Sri Lanka slip up badly, get utterly complacent, collectively fail to apply themselves. Long Tom certainly will be drilling this into his team's heads before they take the field. "Quite clearly we'll be approaching this game just like any other - whether it's Zimbabwe, England, Australia or India it makes no difference," he said, perhaps a touch too emphatically. "My emphasis to the players will be that we're going in to win this match, the opposition is irrelevant. Zimbabwe didn't have the start that they wanted against the West Indies, but that doesn't count for anything against us. Whether they have world-class players in their side or not is not relevant. If anyone thinks they can come into a match like this with a foot off the gas and not quite switched on they can be in for a rude shock."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo