Sri Lanka have the “right mix of skills” to repeat their success of 1996 at next month’s 50-over cricket World Cup in the subcontinent, says skipper Kumar Sangakkara.
“We are confident. We know we have a good team that is balanced both in terms of a good mix of experienced players and rising young stars as well as the right mix of skills for playing in Asian conditions,” he says.
“We’ll need to take it step by step like we did in 2007 and hope that we can rise to the occasion.”
History and form point to Sri Lanka as one of the favourites, along with co-hosts India, at the quadrennial event to be staged from 19 February. Bangladesh are also co-hosting the event while Pakistan play their league matches in Sri Lanka after they were stripped of hosting rights owing to security concerns in their country.
Sri Lanka are in group A with Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya. Home advantage and familiarity with conditions are expected to favour the subcontinent’s powerhouses.
Game plan: Sangakkara says the big thing will be mental preparation. Photo by Hindustan Times
Arjuna Ranatunga led Sri Lanka to success when the World Cup was staged in the subcontinent in 1996. Sangakkara is hoping for an encore.
“Our bowling attack has been one of our big strengths in the past couple of years. They really have excelled under pressure. We have plenty of variety and lots of options. We also have a talented batting line-up, some quality all-rounders and great team spirit,” says Sangakkara, who took over as captain after Mahela Jayawardene relinquished the post 18 months ago to give the incumbent an opportunity to build a side for the 10th edition of the World Cup.
Jayawardene led Sri Lanka to the final in the previous edition in the Caribbean in 2007, where they lost to Australia.
“Mahela was a great captain and he guided us through a difficult period of rebuilding. It was a shame he felt the need to resign and I was one of the players who urged him to stay on,” says Sangakkara.
“He left me with a core of players and my task was to fine-tune things and build on what had been created. We worked hard on different combinations and during the past 18 months, have moved forward. Our One Day cricket in 2010 was, on the whole, good. I am really happy with the 15-man squad we have for this tournament.”
Sri Lanka had an excellent run last year in which they recorded a One Day series victory in Australia for the first time. There are a lot of expectations from the team in the cricket-loving island, and although Sri Lanka play a majority of their league matches at home, two new stadiums in Hambantota and Pallekele will be new to them too.
“There is always pressure on us to perform and our fans are passionate,” says the left-handed batsman and wicketkeeper. “We are fortunate, though, that they are also supportive and I know we are really going to enjoy playing in front of people, all of whom will be cheering us on. That could be a big advantage for us as it will inspire us all.
“Obviously, we need to adapt quickly to the conditions. We are playing our games in new stadiums and we need to quickly weigh up the requirements of playing in these venues.
“But the big thing will be mental preparation and how we execute our game plans under pressure. There are lots of strong teams but the winner this time will face three knock-out matches with the addition of a quarter-final stage. This extra unpredictability means you need to be able to perform when it matters most.”
Spin ace Muttiah Muralitharan, the highest wicket taker in both Test and One Day cricket, will be playing—he announced that the World Cup will be his swansong. “Murali is a legend and we are all thrilled he was willing to play one final World Cup,” says Sangakkara. “As he showed last year against India, he remains an exceptional bowler and he is obviously a key man for us.
“The big benefit, as a captain, of having someone like him is knowing that he can bowl in any situation. He’s as tough as they come and he will be unfazed by any situation. In the dressing room he also has a hugely positive impact, always encouraging and inspiring those around him.”
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