Sangakkara lauds disciplined New Zealand
Kumar Sangakkara believes New Zealand are tough opponents because of their discipline, which he said was an attribute other teams should pick up from Ross Taylor's side. New Zealand lack the big names of the other two teams in the tournament but started off with a crushing victory over India, serving notice to anyone under-estimating them.
"The great thing about New Zealand is they are very competitive," Sangakkara said before the start of his team's practice session under lights. "They play very orthodox, very structured cricket. Strategies are set and they always try to execute those strategies. That's the discipline that I think we can all learn from New Zealand.
"It's very important in Twenty20 and one-day cricket now that you have applied executable strategies out in the middle that everyone understands and everyone can execute according to their own abilities. New Zealand does that probably the best in the world, so that makes them a very tough side."
The discipline and strategy are particularly important when batting second in the challenging conditions in Dambulla, where the team batting first has had a distinct advantage in recent matches. "It's not mostly skill, it's about being mentally attuned to what's happening there and being ready with not just one but two or three plans," he said.
The tournament is seen as a part of the team's fine-tuning ahead of the World Cup but the pitches in Dambulla aren't the traditional subcontinental flat tracks. "Playing in conditions like this is very good for us because when it is a challenge, you got to relish it," Sangakkara said. "The harder the things you have to do out in the middle, the improvement becomes faster. For us, that is how we are going to look at this tournament."
One aspect of Sri Lanka's cricket which will be closely watched is the spin bowling. With no Muttiah Muralitharan around, it's a chance for any of Suraj Randiv, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath to establish themselves in the side. "It depends on the opposition we are playing," Sangakkara said when asked about the first-choice spinner. "Depending on that, we will pick one or the other [Randiv or Mendis]. We got Rangana Herath in the wings as well. So each time we will make sure that we play the right combination for the opposition unless there is a huge difference in form between the bowlers."
New Zealand had gone in without a spinner in the first match, but that could change in case Jacob Oram fails to recover from his hamstring problem. "We have a little bit of a niggle with Jacob Oram, just a tight hamstring, hopefully he can recover well tonight, we'll see how he goes tomorrow," the captain Ross Taylor said. "He's an outstanding bowler for us, top-10 in the one-day rankings, if we were to lose him, it will be a huge loss but it will be an opportunity for whoever comes in."
A win on Friday will virtually put New Zealand in the final, but Taylor was not looking that far ahead. "I don't want to get carried away, it was one victory and the team played well. Sri Lanka are a difficult opponent in their home conditions and we have to come out with the same attitude and the same intent in the next game, we know if we do that we give ourselves a good chance."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo