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Jayasuriya sounds World Cup warning to new ball bowlers

Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka's gloriously combustible opening batsman, has vowed to back his natural instincts and continue a high-risk strategy of all-out attack against the new ball during the World Cup.

During the recent tours to South Africa and Australia the 33-year-old left-hander had concentrated on survival during the first 15 overs of the innings as he grappled with unfamiliar conditions.

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But Jayasuriya, a mild-mannered Buddhist with an instinctive urge to dominate who took the 1996 World Cup by storm with his audacious early over assaults, struggled in defensive mode.

After successful tournaments in Morocco and at the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo, his form plummeted. Nine ODIs passed without a single fifty, a barren run for an opener that has scored 15 centuries and 52 fifties in his 287-match ODI career.

The suitability of his technique to the fast, bouncy pitches that predominate in Australia and South Africa was openly doubted and there was even consideration that he slip back down into the middle order.

With the side losing and his consensual leadership style also attracting growing criticism, Jayasuriya was under mounting pressure.

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"I was not desperate but it was very disappointing," revealed Jayasuriya after his return to Colombo. "We were all mentally down, especially after that game against Australia A when we were bowled out for 65 - it was only natural to be so."

But Jayasuriya, like a weary gambler tossing his last chips onto the table, decided the time had come for a change in strategy in the second part of the VB tri-series, joking before Sri Lanka's match against Australia at Sydney that he was going in for "a bit of a slog".

"In the first few games we were concerned about adapting to conditions and not losing too many wickets in the first 15 overs," he says. "That didn't work for us. I was not getting runs and I was not playing my natural game."

He rode his luck early on against the unusually butter-fingered Australians but was soon unstoppable as he rushed to a match-winning hundred. Another ton followed in the next game. Sri Lanka's World Cup hopes had been revitalised.

"All it needed was one person to score a hundred," said Jayasuriya. "Marvan (Atapattu) and I did that at Sydney and things changed. We started to score runs and the confidence returned at the right time for South Africa."

Jayasuriya is now upbeat about Sri Lanka's chances. With the distracting pay dispute with the Sri Lanka cricket board also now resolved the focus is Sri Lanka's opening game.

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"The NZ match is a key game for us," he says. "We must not put ourselves under pressure. We must treat it like any other international game and not a World Cup game. We have to all play our natural games."

On song, with the likes of Jayasuriya and star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in their ranks, Sri Lanka can blow aside any opponent, a fact acknowledged by the Australians whose preference for facing England in the VB Series final was clear.

"If we click then we can beat anyone and change the whole system," says Jayasuriya. "But the important thing is consistency for us - we need to continue performing throughout the tournament."

But Jayasuriya has asked his players to forget thoughts of lifting the trophy for now: "Our first priority is to get through the preliminary round and I have asked the boys to concentrate that. Once we have got through that we can think of the next step."