Batsmen lick their lips but Sri Lanka start as favourites

Charlie Austin

July 17, 2001

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The latest triangular tournament to grip the sub-continent is set to commence and, to coin the main sponsor's catch phrase, one-day cricket tastes good in these parts. Whilst the purists will be looking ahead to the three-match Test series between India and Sri Lanka, the masses will be sitting goggle-eyed in front of their televisions.

There is no doubt that one-day cricket is king in Sri Lanka. It is proved by the television ratings and by the crowds, who have been buying up the tickets quickly. It's acknowledged by the Ceylon Electricity Board, who are currently trying to steer the country out of a severe power crisis by imposing mandatory power cuts in the evening, but have nevertheless guaranteed to feed the greedy hydrogen lamps that will light up the stadium tomorrow night.

As the front page of a national daily states this morning, "cricket first, country later," one suspects that they will keep the power flowing to the households too - a sudden cut in the midst of a Jayasuriya cameo might just send the people onto the streets.

Local excitement is fuelled further by the fact that Sri Lanka enter the tournament as favourites, no matter what the partisan Internet polls may say. India are consistently successful in messing up finals and New Zealand cannot surely be expected to prosper having had almost zero outdoor practice coming into their first game, which is to be played in such unfamiliar conditions.

Sri Lanka on the other hand have made a habit of winning triangular tournaments in recent times, and on home soil the last time they were beaten was in an Aiwa Cup match back in 1999 against India - they did though win the tournament.

Not that they are invincible - far from it. They were given a sound thrashing in South Africa earlier in the year and an under strength Kiwi side gave them a good run for their money in the Sharjah ARY Gold Cup in April. Their middle order appears shaky and could well be exposed.

In fact all the sides boast strong batting line-ups and thus the potential to win matches, especially with the possibility of pitches deteriorating in the later stages. The Indian team have a mighty batting line-up, even without the services of Tendulkar, who is now set to rejoin the squad in that later part of the tournament. New Zealand too, as they showed in their warm-up game, have a long batting line-up and with the likes of Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle, and Craig McMillan could easily spring a surprise on their Asian cousins.

Apart from a trio of finger spinners - Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori - the teams are conspicuously short of match winning bowlers and this should lead to a high scoring and entertaining series.

Though there has been much talk of greener wickets the Premadasa wicket looks to be a fairly standard one. The curator was happy this morning, claiming it to be an excellent batting wicket, but warning that run scoring may become harder in the second innings when the pitch slows in pace.

Sri Lanka look set to adopt an aggressive strategy with five frontline bowlers and just six batsmen. The seventh batting slot will be taken by all-rounder Suresh Perera. Kumar Dharmasena is certain to play, having had a fine record against New Zealand recently. Dulip Liyanage will compete for the new ball with Dinusha Fernando.

Romesh Kaluwitharana, though he has been more consistent of late in the one-day game, may be forced to sit out to make way for the hard-hitting Avishka Gunawardene, currently enjoying the best form of his life. Kumar Sangakkara would therefore take the gloves.

New Zealand, in good spirits after yesterday's warm-up game and the successful returns for Dion Nash and Daniel Vettori, will have to omit one from the 12 that played against Pakistan A. This is likely to be a fast bowler, possibly Darryl Tuffey, who looked the most profligate of the quartet.

Stephen Fleming acknowledged that Sri Lanka represents a major challenge: "I think most sides that tour here go in as underdogs. They are a very tough team to beat in their home conditions. You are not only dealing with what is going on in the middle but with heat and humidity.

"Sri Lanka are a very experienced side that have a number of players with over 200 games. The spinners are very tricky to play and have wickets to assist them."

He was, though, happy with the way that the team has shaped up in the short period of time available: "We have done everything that we could so far in Sri Lanka and go into this match well prepared after a lot of training back in New Zealand."

They will wait until tomorrow before naming the side.

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Charlie Austin Sri Lanka editor When Charlie Austin left for Sri Lanka after graduating from Sussex University, he was a planning a winter's cricket in the tropics and a six-month stint with an environmental NGO. His mother's worst fears were soon realised when it became clear that he had fallen in love with the island. Six months have now become eight years and Colombo has become his home. He joined Cricinfo in February 2000 and now heads operations in Sri Lanka, responsible for both sales and editorial. He is also the director of a UK-based travel company called Red Dot Tours, and is currently ghosting Muttiah Muralitharan's autobiography.
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