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August 17, 2009
Kumar Sangakkara has played down Sri Lanka's tag of overwhelming favourites for the two-Test series against New Zealand, saying instead that the past mattered little when it came to game day.
"It doesn't matter what we done against Pakistan we've got to get into this Test series as a new game and play tough, fair and really competitive cricket and do what we know really well. If we do that we got a great chance of winning," said Sangakkara. "Day by day over five days if you can perform better than New Zealand yes, we will win. But if we go into a match thinking we are going to win on recent form, walk in there with no plans and no attitude, no positive body language or intent then we are not going to do well."
Sri Lanka are bound to target the inexperience of New Zealand's batsmen against spin in hot and humid conditions and especially against Ajantha Mendis, against who they struggled in the ICC World Twenty in England. None of the batsmen have played a Test in Sri Lanka and this is a factor that the hosts are looking to put pressure on.
In that aspect Mendis stands the likely choice to partner the world's leading wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan despite the fact that left-arm spinner Rangana Herath played a major role in Sri Lanka's 2-0 win over Pakistan with 15 wickets.
"If it comes down to the choice of picking Mendis or Herath it will be one of the most difficult ones. But at the end of the day you've got to make the right choice," said Sangakkara. "To do that sometimes the decisions are tough but they got to be made. Whichever way they go the decision will be made for the good of the side and towards winning the Test match.
"Having watched Mendis bowling against New Zealand in the Twenty20 we've also got Murali who's coming back after injury. We got a very strong spin attack and both of them have been spinners who've won us games. We are looking forward to having that same combination. Herath's had a wonderful Test series against Pakistan we have the choice but once you make that choice you've got to go out there and really perform."
Also returning to the Test side after injury is specialist wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene whose presence forced Sri Lanka to change their opening batting combination. Malinda Warnapura, who opened with Tharanga Paranavitana against Pakistan, will have to make way for the return of Tillakaratne Dilshan who is being promoted to open the batting. "Dilshan will play a very important role. We know that he's been our No. 1 opener in the shortest version of the game," said Sangakkara. "We might ask him to do that role in Test matches as well. He's one player who can win matches for us he's done it in the past."
In recent times Sri Lanka's bowling has moved away from spin to seam as their main weapon for success with the advent of bowlers like Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara, who spearheaded the bowling against Pakistan. The Galle pitch too has interestingly not proved to be what it has been over the years.
"It's not been a traditional Sri Lankan pitch which is really good for the make up that we have in the side," said Sangakkara. "We've got lots of fast bowlers coming through, most of them are bowling 140 plus now and we've got two of the best spinners in the world going around. We've got the balance of the side to meet the requirements of the wicket and opposition.
"New Zealand's got really good and capable players it's a very interesting mixture. We've seen most of them over the years and they've got a lot of quality as well. They are a side that you really can't take for granted for the variation they have, the spinners and fast bowlers. We know they got their bases covered what we got to do is try and play better cricket."