March 15, 2007

Our youngsters are ready to make their mark

Not too much to worry about from Sri Lanka's defeat to New Zealand in the warm-up match



The Caribbean flavour and passion was on display at the opening ceremony © Getty Images

The much anticipated World Cup got underway with a wonderful opening ceremony in Jamaica featuring a host of West Indian and international stars performing in front of an enthusiastic crowd. It was launched with true Caribbean flavour and passion. The players from all nations could sense the immense pride with which the West Indians have accepted the challenge of hosting the tournament.

For us, the World Cup began with a somewhat tiring 21 hours of flying, from Colombo via Dubai and London, but the sight of beautiful Barbados with its wonderful people and scenic beaches soon had our players rejuvenated. Barbados is an idyllic place - so much so that sometimes you almost had to kick yourself to be reminded that you are here to win the most coveted prize in cricket and not on an exotic holiday.

Our preparation in Barbados involved two practice games along with a few dedicated nets sessions. The practices were held at different venues to the ones that will host the main World Cup games so there was no opportunity to get a first-hand look-in at how the newly re-laid pitches will play. However, the pitches prepared for our two practice games turned out to be very fair - although slower than expected - and were similar to Asian pitches. We will have to wait till our first game to see how the wickets in Trinidad will play.

We lost the final warm-up game against New Zealand but, to be honest, that was not a major concern. The bottom line is that it was practice and we were trying out things rather than just focusing on winning the game. There were some positives and we finished the preparatory stage of the tournament in a confident mood.

We have been preparing with focus and intensive purpose during the build-up to the World Cup. Now that the tournament has begun we see no reason to change the way we train as the attitude of all the players in their approach to practice has been exemplary. Our focus is now to continue and maintain the intensity and purpose with which we train and to leave no avenues unexplored in our quest to win the cup.

This World Cup holds a lot of promise, not only in the sense of a magnificent sporting spectacle, but also performances of some brilliant individual players. First and foremost, as captain and leading batsman, Brian Lara will be carrying the hopes of the entire Caribbean. He will be looking to leave his personal stamp of genius on this his last World Cup.

Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya too will be keen to put in memorable performances. As two of the most influential players that have ever played the one-day game, this is the ideal stage for them to achieve cricketing immortality.



Upul Tharanga will be one of the players to watch for this World Cup © Getty Images
The Australian side, smarting from their defeats in the Commonwealth Bank and Chappell-Hadlee series, will be looking out for strong batting performances led by Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist. Ponting's consistency and form over the past few years have put him right at the top of the list of the world's best batsmen - rivalled only by Mohammad Yousuf with the form he has shown over the past year.

There are some young players to watch in this tournament too and in this regard Sri Lanka is blessed with three of the brightest new stars. Watch out for the likes of Upul Tharanga, Chamara Silva and Lasith Malinga. They are extremely talented and ready to make their own mark on the international stage.

Their first outing comes with our opener against Bermuda, one of the so-called 'minnows'. Personally, I think it is good for more teams to be involved, but as a team it is not for us to question whether or not the smaller developing nations should be playing. Our job is to concentrate on our cricket.

So against the Bermudians we will be taking it very seriously indeed. We are approaching the game with the same intensity that we'd prepare for Australia. We must be fully prepared to execute our game-plans and play the brand of cricket that we want to play in this tournament. We can't wait to start.

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