' We are competing much better overseas' feels Mahela Jayawardene © Getty Images

The World Cup begins in the Caribbean in a little more than a month's time and Sri Lanka, like the other leading contenders, are gearing up for the ultimate prize in cricket. Their four one-day internationals against India starting early next month will provide them with a final dress rehearsal.

It was after a dismal tour of India at the end of 2005 that the wheel of fortune started to turn for Sri Lanka and Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, is quite mindful of it. "The focus might be on the World Cup but what we are trying to refocus is that India is a place that we haven't performed well recently. We want to rectify that and put it right saying this is the place we are going to be competitive and perform well. If we do that it will be good for us, in terms of confidence, going into the World Cup," said Jayawardene.

A losing scoreline of 2-0 in Tests and 6-1 in the ODIs and their failure to qualify for a place in the ICC Champions trophy semi-finals have made Jayawardene's boys determined to put the record straight on this occasion. "India actually started our revival. When we lost those six matches badly we had a chat and asked ourselves where we wanted to be in one year's time. Today we are in a different situation, consistently performing. We have grown up as a team and we have put a lot of results together. Going back to India again is doing the whole recycle. It's another way of saying let's compare where we were in India one year ago and now," said Jayawardene.

In the 14 months that have elapsed since the tour to India, Sri Lanka have won 20 of their 40 one-day internationals (17 losses and 3 no-results) and six out of 11 Tests (3 losses, 2 draws). What is so creditable about this record is that 85 percent of these matches have been played overseas and Sri Lanka has a 58 percent win record. "We are competing much better overseas," said Jayawardene. One reason for it is that Sri Lanka have a vastly improved bowling side than in the past.



'Mali [Lasith Malinga] has given us a different dimension to our overall bowling attack' © Getty Images

"We are stronger in bowling than when I first came into the team in 1997. The improvement has been in the pace department. We've always had spinners who bowled well in subcontinent conditions but the problem we had when we went abroad was we never had attacking options because we used to bowl our spinners even on seaming conditions."

"Now we have a bowling attack that would suit any wicket anywhere in the world. We are in a better situation because our pace has improved. We have three guys who bowl more than 140 kph, some are going at 150 kph it is something new. We've got a world class left-armer (Chaminda Vaas) to open the bowling who hits the right areas more often than anybody. You back that up with Murali (Muttiah Muralitharan) and we have a lot of attacking options. It has actually improved our game a lot overall," he said.

Jayawardene admitted that the biggest plus factor in the past year has been the improvement of fast bowler Lasith Malinga. The 23-year-old paceman has brought something different to the bowling unit with his ability to bowl at speeds reaching 150 kph. "Mali has given a different dimension to our overall bowling attack. The attacking options have become more. We have Vaasy who takes early wickets, Murali is in the middle and Mali becomes another attacking option upfront as well as in the middle overs. He is pretty good in the last few overs as well," said Jayawardene.

"(Farveez) Maharoof is picking up wickets here and there. Dilhara (Fernando) is getting wickets but he is still not quite there. Our bowling plan is not to just go and bowl fifty overs and say give about 250 to 270 runs. We have a bowling attack which goes out there to get wickets and try and bowl sides out before the fifty overs. It's an ideal situation to be in," Jayawardene continued.

"We want to strive on, find more variations and more attacking options to boost the bowling unit altogether. Different conditions will obviously provide us with different challenges. It won't be only pace-oriented. If the wicket is going to spin we have the other side of it as well with Sanath (Jayasuriya) and (Malinga) Bandara who will come as an attacking option. We want to improve on creating more opportunities to get wickets because you win fifty-over matches by taking wickets," he said.

Resting Vaas, Muralitharan, Chamara Kapugedera and Ruchira Perera for the Indian tour has given the opportunity for experienced hands like Russel Arnold, Upul Chandana and Nuwan Zoysa to show what they are capable of. "What we want to do is to make sure that everyone is playing cricket at the highest level so that at any given time they are prepared to play for us. We are also looking at the composition of the team for the World Cup. We want to figure out exactly what kind of combinations that we can have," said Jayawardene.

"Tom (Moody) and I had a chat over the phone after he'd inspected the wickets in the West Indies. Different venues will provide us with different challenges. We need to have not one combination but two or three, depending on what kind of surfaces we get and the grounds and the opposition. India would be an ideal scenario for us to try these things out and see exactly what kind of players would suit in the different kinds of combinations," he said.

We want to see different guys coming in and see how they handle situations. What we want is for guys to be at the top of their form going into the World Cup. It would be the ideal situation to be in when you have about 17-18 guys in form. It will be a headache but it's a healthy one to have

Jayawardene said that Arnold was purely in the team because of his performances in the 'A' team as well as in domestic cricket. "Russel is good guy to fall back on because of his experience. When an experienced guy like Russel is getting runs in the middle order we need to have different options. He fits in nicely. It's good to have him back in the squad but he'll have to perform to get into the set up and start doing the job he's been doing for a long time. He was out of form. He went in and did the hard work and fully deserves his selection," Jayawardene stated.

"Upul has also been a consistent performer. When Murali was rested obviously (Malinga) Bandara become our no.1 choice in the team. But we need to have a back up to Malinga injury wise or whatever the circumstances. The best spinners who have been performing have been Upul and Kaushal Lokuarachchi. We had to make a decision. Upul with his experience of playing in three World Cups got the nod. He's been performing well in the domestic as well as in the 'A' team. These guys came into the squad not because of their experience but on performance," he said.

If there is an area of worry it is the middle order batting which, according to Jayawardene, has "not clicked when situations arose". "The middle order never took responsibility to finish it off. The guys know what their duty is. They know their roles in the team. That's why we want to see different guys coming in and see how they handle situations. What we want is for guys to be at the top of their form going into the World Cup. It would be the ideal situation to be in when you have about 17-18 guys in form. It will be a headache but it's a healthy one to have," said Jayawardene.