Ford hopes for flat batting tracks in England

Sri Lanka have struck in excess of 300 in two of their last five ODI innings Associated Press

Sri Lanka may have often hankered for spin on foreign pitches, and the island may still the home of low-scoring one dayers, but this time around, they would love some nice, flat batting tracks at the Champions Trophy, if English groundstaff don't mind.

That, at least, is the view of coach Graham Ford, who, in sizing up Sri Lanka's attributes, has settled on batting as the team's foremost strength. Sri Lanka have lost six of their last seven completed ODIs, but did breach 300 in two of their five most recent innings.

"I think in one-day cricket, we have some exceptional strokemakers, and some really talented batsmen," Ford said ahead of their departure for the UK. "That's why if the batting pitches are good, I think we can really put bowling attacks under pressure. Perhaps with some of our younger players who are still learning to construct innings, the challenge is to make sure we're in a position to put attacks under a lot of pressure at the end. But if you do construct an innings well, we have some of the best ball-strikers in world cricket. They can really take a bowling attack down."

Ford said turning tracks - which Sri Lanka have historically prospered on, both home and away - are not necessarily going to be helpful. Sri Lanka begin their campaign against South Africa at The Oval, before playing India at the same venue a few days later.

"I'm not actually sure we want it to spin much, because Imran Tahir is a real weapon for South Africa, and R Ashwin and the Indian spinners will be a factor," Ford said. "We're looking for good cricket wickets - good one-day pitches."

Having coached Surrey before taking the job with Sri Lanka, The Oval is a ground Ford knows well. Though no team has passed 300 at the venue so far in this year's Royal London One Day Cup, scores have gradually increased as the summer has worn on.

"From what I've seen, it's been a particularly dry start to the summer, and the scores have been really high. That should suit us. If you look at the scores of the domestic one-day competition on now in England, the scores have been really high. Hopefully, those are the kinds of pitches that we can perform well on. You never know with the weather - a wet spell could come in. But for now, it's all looking really promising."

On the bowling front, Sri Lanka are desperate for Lasith Malinga to return in good health and fitness, in order to stem the leakage of runs in the slog overs, which has been a feature of their limited-overs cricket over the past two years. Malinga is the only player in the squad who did not take part in the recent training camp at Pallekele, with the board having reasoned that he was better off gaining match practice at the IPL.

"If we can get the old guard of Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara firing with their skills at the end of the innings, that probably takes 20-25 runs off the opposition score as well," Ford said. "It's a combination of finishing the innings off really well with the ball, and of course, setting ourselves up well with the bat."

Ford was philosophical about Sri Lanka's prospects at the tournament. While he believed his team capable of lifting the trophy, he acknowledged Sri Lanka would be underdogs.

"The Champions Trophy is a big ask, and recent results will tell you that. But the guys have shown talent, and they've worked extremely hard trying to improve their cricket. I think with us being a team that's improving all the time, we've certainly got a chance of upsetting one of the other nations. It is a huge challenge, but one that we're looking forward to."