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Sri Lanka emerge as serious contenders

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Oliver Brett | 08:16 UK time, Saturday, 19 February 2011

Winners in 1996, finalists last time, co-hosts this time and second-favourites behind India. But just how good are Sri Lanka?

Paul Farbrace, who spent two years as the island nation's assistant coach from 2007, is confident Kumar Sangakkara's men can go all the way. Their campaign begins on Sunday with a sell-out match against Canada in Hambantota.

"They are well planned, well organised, and have a very good and well-balanced squad," Farbrace, who left his Sri Lanka post to coach Kent, tells BBC Sport.

"The conditions will suit them enormously. They have been working towards this for the best part of three years, and a lot of effort has been put into selection."

Sri Lanka's meticulous attention to detail contrasts sharply with the somewhat shambolic preparations of another team. England, says Farbrace "have been chopping and changing all over the place".

But this blog is not about England; it's about a powerful unit who can draw on the experience of Sangakkara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Mahela Jayawardene, the exotic bowling of Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis, and one of the most exciting young cricketers around in Angelo Mathews.

Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga

Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga are two of Sri Lanka's trump cards (AFP)

With such a rich talent base to draw on, have the selectors arrived at the right squad of 15?

Global cricket promoter Mahendra Mapagunaratne, a Sri Lankan who coined the phrases "carrom ball" - the flicked-finger delivery developed by Mendis - and "Dilscoop" (a scooped over-the-shoulder shot played by Tillakaratne Dilshan) is not convinced.

He wants to know why 37-year-old Chaminda Vaas, a left-arm swing bowler who took 23 wickets in the 2003 World Cup, has been left out.

"Vaas has mastered his craft and his experience cannot be easily replaced," says Mapagunaratne. "He has also developed his batting and can even play in the top order in an emergency.

"Sri Lanka may still go on to win the World Cup but Vaas would have made that task that much easier."

Another Vaas sympathiser is commentator and journalist Roshan Abeysinghe, who feels the veteran of 322 one-dayers is "on top of his game."

He adds: "Vaas had a great season with Northants, and though there was an explanation about why Dilhara Fernando was picked - the selectors were going with someone who could bowl fast and replace Malinga in case of injury - in most people's eyes that argument does not hold much water."

Abeysinghe also feels the once dashing opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya, one of the 1996 glory boys and now 41 years old, could have earned himself a final World Cup campaign.

"Jayasuriya would struggle to come into the side as an opener now. Dilshan is secure in that role and the other opener Upul Tharanga hit a century against the West Indies recently. But if Sanath had been willing to bat down the order, he could have been considered as an all-rounder to bowl some left-arm spin. He's still very fit and could have batted at seven."

Farbrace reckons the selectors have probably got it right by calling time on the careers of both Vaas and Jayasuriya.

"They have been two giants of Sri Lankan cricket, but the selectors have decided it's time to move on. It was one hell of a big call to make to drop them, they were desperate to play. But the change had to be made at some point and the selectors were brave enough to make it at the time they did."

The one bone of contention in Farbrace's eyes is the omission of Suraj Randiv among the three spin options, with Rangana Herath picked instead.

Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga

Batsmen such as Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga make up a strong squad (AP)

However he does concede that Herath has done "exceptionally well for Sri Lanka in the last two years", while Abeysinghe notes that he could prove a useful substitute for Mendis against teams such as Pakistan and India, whose batsmen are prone to attack the unorthodox spinner.

Farbrace is a Mathews enthusiast, revealing that he was picked as a raw 22-year-old for the ICC World Twenty20 in England to serve a long-term purpose.

"His selection for that tournament enhanced his learning very quickly, and coach Trevor Bayliss deserves credit for playing him before he was ready.

"Mathews can bat anywhere in the top six and can bowl 10 overs a game. He could emerge from this World Cup as one of the best all-rounders in the world... a Jacques Kallis-type cricketer who can score thousands of runs while his bowling should not be under-estimated."

This World Cup will also feature the last few matches in the career of the mighty Muralitharan, but his impending retirement will not be a distraction to himself or the rest of the team, argues Farbrace.

"Murali has this desire to be the best and is driven by fear of failure. I worked with him when he was about to break the Test wickets record in Kandy, the excitement didn't get to him then.

"That driving desire to be as good as he can is unique in someone who's such a good player. His never-ending determination, bowling 10 times the overs he needs to in practice, never goes away."

Muttiah Muralitharan infographic

Muralitharan's sub-continent record compares favourably with other top spinners (statistics: Opta)

Abeysinghe confirms an excitable buzz began in Sri Lanka many weeks, but says none of it concerns Muralitharan's farewell.

"In most people's mind he's already retired. He was given a grand send-off at Galle [where last July, in his final Test, he became the first man to take 800 wickets in five-day cricket.]"

The only negative Farbrace can contemplate is the enormous expectation that will be heaped on Sangakkara and co by the home fans.

"It is great to have home advantage but Sanga and Trevor will tell the players they are under huge pressure because of the expectation levels. Sri Lankans are fanatical about the World Cup.

"Maybe Vaasy not playing may be an issue in that scenario, but I feel there's enough quality in this squad."

While you would expect him to back the team he once coached, the respect with which Sri Lanka are regarded is revealed in a recent comment from Matthew Hayden.

The former Australia batsman said: "Sri Lanka are the red-hot favourites. They have enough players to succeed in these conditions, besides some extremely experienced and dangerous players. And they are going to push hard."

There will be some very tough challenges in the weeks ahead, and one bad performance from the quarter-finals onwards could prove terminal, but things are looking up for Sri Lanka if an Australian tips them as the likeliest winners.


  • Comment number 1.

    sri lanka could the semis and toil

  • Comment number 2.

    I can see 3 of the 4 semi final places being taken by India,Sri Lanka and Pakistan.There is no reason why Sri Lanka can't win it as they have quality throughout the line up.

  • Comment number 3.


    Sri Lanka
    South Africa

    Final Australia vs Sri Lanka
    Australia to win the World Cup narrowly but Sri lanka to have a good go

  • Comment number 4.

    The lack of comments on this blog says it all for me; I don't think many people, certainly in the UK, actually care about this world cup. Any blog relating to the ashes throughout that series was inundated with comments. It has nothing to do with your writing Oliver, I just personally couldn't care less about this world cup. It's too long, it's only on Sky to watch, and even if England do win it I still don't think I'll care. Maybe in 6 months or whenever it is, when we get to the semi's, it might get interesting.

    As for Sri Lanka, yeah, why not? I think India have the best shot - even before the 370 they scored today. Any one of 6 teams could do it though.

  • Comment number 5.

    why is the bbc coverage so poor? i can watch live rugby,football,golf.snooker,cycling,even indoor for the cricket world cup the best i can get is 1 hour of highlights at midnight. even worse when england play thier opening game thats down to 30 mins

  • Comment number 6.

    Murali is not going to win the world cup for Sri Lanka. The stats given don't really say that much as you can hardly call Afridi a leading spinner and Vettori and Harbhjan stats compare quite well to Murali's. if Sri Lanka win it will be down to there explosive batters.

  • Comment number 7.

    SL, India, SA have good teams. Aus dont have good spinners nor good batting lineup. India, SL lacks quality pace attack. India has a better batting lineup than SL. SL has a better spin bowling attack than India. SL also have a slightly better pace attack with Malinga bowling yorkers at will. SA lacks good spin attack. SA has a strong batting line up and the best pace attack in the tournament.

    lets be real. Any contest between these three teams is just boil down to whose day is it? luck may I say

  • Comment number 8.

    I do have great respect for the Englishmen and to you too as well, even though I do not know if you are from England...But I would like to say one thing to all people who consider Ashes above everything else...the downfall of English cricket, is because of the importance given by them to Ashes, over other tournaments.
    Its a sad thing and all English cricket fans must embrace all tournaments. Beating Australia is not a big thing these days, almost every team seems to do it and in my opinion Australia must come back and do well this time. This tournament is long, but if England can reach at least the semis, its a big thing and if they do it, then every one can confidently say that England is a world class team...
    Though I am an Indian, I pitch this time for England and the Aussies, because they are historically powerful teams, which in the recent past have been coming down, England( for more than two decades now) and Australia (Just in the past few months). Hope Australia continue their good play, as they had in the aus- eng odis and England must play well as they had in the Ashes tests and the t20 wc... Wish Australia, England and India a very good luck...

  • Comment number 9.

    completely agree prashant, and being an england fan i actually hope they do well in the world cup, to say that the ashes are more important is short-sighted and despite the ashes glory the one thing that england have never won is the world cup. On sri lanka's chance i question their batting line-up, for me jayawardene and particularly sangakarra's form has been carrying the batting for the last couple of years and if they dont perform i cant see sri-lanka doing well in this tournament. In angelo matthews they have definetely unearthed a jem but they lack the overall batting power of India or even south africa who have a strong batting line-up all the way down to number 7.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sri Lanka do have a good chance to win the world cup. Sri Lanka are one of the favourites. Sri Lanka played excellent today and trashed Canada. Sri Lanka's first real test will be in their next match against Pakistan. I think it will be a Sri Lanka v India Final. Sri Lanka got both experience and youth and are strong in all departments. I fancy Sri Lanka to go all the way and win it. It would be an excellent way for Sri Lanka's legend Muttiah Muralitharan to retire from international cricket.

  • Comment number 11.

    I doubt the batting power the Lankans having,they re okk in the bowling department but we have to wait and see,I put my money on India,SA,Pakistan and England.Its interesting to c how Zimbabwe and West indies will perform

  • Comment number 12.


    The point I was making was that the test series against Australia provides a perfect counter-point to the world cup - one with lots of interest, the other with none. I think the home test series with India this summer will provide lots of interest, and there will be plenty of comment. I'm up for tournaments, but test cricket is the pinnacle, so my main issue does not lie with competing with Australia per se, but with a poorly organised one-day tournament that goes on too long, and is only available to the few

  • Comment number 13.

    There seems to be much speculation regarding the future (if any) of 50-over cricket and the World Cup in particular, and whether anything can be done to "jazz it up." How's about: Team A bats first for 25 overs: Team B bats second for 50 overs, setting a target: Team A resumes their innings, chasing whatever target has been set. Fortunes will ebb and flow and fans will see, in effect, two run-chases instead of one, with any advantage gained by the team bowling first probably negated by their having also to bowl last (weather and pitch conditions playing, as they do, a large part in the outcome of the game). Anyone in favour?

  • Comment number 14.

    After England's showing against Netherlands, am I the only one for whom the words "resting" "laurels" "Ashes" come to mind when thinking of the team's performances so far in 2011?

  • Comment number 15.

    It’s a shame the world cup is not getting a lot of coverage in England. Its a shame that when it comes to football, its available free on terrestrial tv where as Cricket is a mere hour, late on TV.

    On a complete different note. Its too early to predict after performances with “minor teams”, strong performances never the less, except England. Unfortunately the tournament is long so plenty of chance to develop injuries (and recover from them). For sure we won’t have the problems of the last world cup (ie bad atmosphere and bad lighting).

    Even with the clinical execution of the Indians, raw talent of the Pakistani’s, Talent and flair of the Sri Lankans, with the choke of the South Africans, the teams to watch are India , Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia.

  • Comment number 16.

    Sorry, the BBC was going to be out-bid by Sky for the CWC, cricket is one of Sky's big sports, they show all of the England Test, tons of County, and alot of test from around the world (such as SA v India when the Ashes were on)

    The fact that Sky has the finances to out bid anyone they want for a sport if they want to, is NOT the BBC's fault.


    As for the blog itself, i've had Sri Lanka to reach the semi's, it all depends on who they draw for me in the Semi's, if they get India or SA, i can't see them reaching the final, anyone else, yeah, i'd say they reach the final.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Sri Lanka, who are co-hosting the World Cup with Bangladesh and India, has already run into trouble with fans after banning music and placards at match venues.


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