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01 March 2024

Sri Lanka hope to make most of home comforts

Muralitharan has often proved unplayable at home with his shrewd variations. (AFP)


Sri Lanka’s ability to rise to the occasion makes them one of the most feared teams in the World Cup, especially in favourable home conditions.

When the focus was on other sides in the 2007 edition in the Caribbean, Sri Lanka steadily emerged as deserving challengers to Australia in the final with their solid all-round show.
They have often proved tough customers in all conditions, having depth in batting and bowling. Their best in recent months came when they clinched their maiden one-day series in Australia under Kumar Sangakkara.
Sri Lanka, who played the first two World Cups as a non-Test-playing nation, surprised the world when they won the 1996 tournament with a comfortable victory over Mark Taylor’s Australians at Lahore.
They were also the semifinalists in 2003 in South Africa and runners-up four years later in the Caribbean, meaning they will not be short of inspiration when they open their campaign against Canada in Hambantota on February 20.
Sri Lanka, playing all of their league matches at home, are expected to make it to the quarter-finals as one of the four qualifiers from Group A, which also includes Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya.
They have left out veteran opener Sanath Jayasuriya and fast bowler Chaminda Vaas, but still have the resources to deliver in crunch situations.
Jayasuriya, with 13,428 runs in 444 one-dayers, played a big role in his team’s Cup campaign in 2007 as he emerged the tournament’s sixth-highest scorer with 467 runs with two centuries.
Sri Lanka’s batting looks in safe hands, with opener Tillakaratne Dilshan known for setting the pace with his hard and clean hitting. He has an able partner in Upul Tharanga, who can provide valuable support.
The middle order looks solid, with former captain Mahela Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera having given a good account of themselves in big matches. Sri Lanka also have an exciting all-rounder in Angelo Mathews.
Jayawardene, who led the side remarkably well in the Caribbean, was the tournament’s second-highest scorer with 548 runs after Australian Matthew Hayden (659).
Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss, who is quitting after the World Cup, feels his team have a chance of winning the trophy.
“Playing at home we have been as good as at any time in history and have as good a chance as anyone else at winning,” he told Cricinfo.
“That (winning the Cup) has been the goal for the last four years since I came in. The World Cup success is a very big thing in Sri Lanka.
“It’s obviously been the focus since the last World Cup, where being runners-up was a great effort. Everyone involved in cricket would like to copy what happened in 1996.”
Sri Lanka expect key fast bowler Lasith Malinga (18 wickets) and off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan (23 wickets) to repeat their 2007 Cup performances, which saw them finish among the top six bowlers.
Malinga, with a low-slung round-arm action, made history in the last tournament when he grabbed four wickets off as many balls against South Africa in Guyana.
Muralitharan, who quit Test cricket last year with a record 800 wickets, has often proved unplayable at home with his shrewd variations. He is also the leading wicket-taker in one-dayers, with 517 scalps in 339 matches.