Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain, believes the five-match ODI series against Pakistan starting in Dambulla on Thursday will be the first step towards their preparations for the 2011 World Cup.
"We are trying to build as strong a side as we possibly can going forward, and looking at one-and-a-half years of cricket towards the World Cup," Sangakkara said. "The best way to build strong sides is to win matches and win series. This is going to be the first hurdle and the first step towards that goal. We hope to go out there and put up a great performance."
The batting, which has been the bane of Sri Lanka in recent ODIs, will once again be the key to their success. "We got a very good bowling set up and we've got to support it with good totals, or chase down targets clinically," said Sangakkara. "We've got new faces in the one-day side and all of them are capable of contributing towards a victory.
"We've done work on a bit of individual skills and a bit of technique work. What we've done more is really think about what role each player is going to play. Once every player knows what his role is it becomes a lot easier."
The hosts took the three-Test series 2-0 and Sangakkara pointed out that adjustments would be needed. "Test cricket and one-day international are two completely different formats of the game," Sangakkara said. "It's a fresh start - new combinations, new players coming into the side and a lot of regrouping to do. We had three to four good days talking about what we should be doing, practising it in the nets. But come tomorrow it's about going out there and putting it into practice. That's the key to all forms of the game, keeping your disciplines and playing good competitive cricket."
Sri Lanka have lost their last three bilateral home series, twice against India and once against England. Sangakkara hoped that they could get off to a winning start despite the uncertainty of the pitch in Dambulla. "Over the years it's been a tough wicket to read," he said. "It's had various scores on it from low to high, the highest being 282. The key is not having a negative mindset going out there. It's best to go out there with an open mind, assess the conditions very quickly and communicate it to the dressing room. Those few little basics that we talk about in building partnership are going to be the key."
Thilan Samaraweera and Lasith Malinga will be returning to the one-day fold in this series. Samaraweera was recalled after more than three years, thanks to his wonderful performances in Tests in the recent past, while Malinga, who was Sri Lanka's leading bowler in the World Twenty20 in England, will be making a comeback after a knee injury.
"Samaraweera is definitely in the mix," Sangakkara said. "There are a lot of hard choices to be made. We've got [Thilina] Kandamby whose been among the runs. Samaraweera has had great Test form, three to four bowlers are in great nick and with Murali coming back into the side a lot of tough decisions will have to be made. The expectations on Lasith haven't changed. He plays a unique role for us. We got to make sure we give him every opportunity to exploit his talents."
Sangakkara also said that it was a great opportunity for Upul Tharanga to prove himself as an opener and put some pressure on the others at the top. "We have [Tillakaratne] Dilshan on the sidelines," Sangakkara said. "He's had a great year with the bat in the opener's berth. We are looking forward to having him back in the side when he is fit, but until then two of the openers have to really put their hands up and do the job for us. Sanath [Jayasuriya] and Upul are very capable. Hopefully, Upul can get a consistent run and show us what he can do. "