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India face red-hot Sri Lanka for Cup survival
N Ananthanarayanan in Port of Spain | March 22, 2007 16:13 IST
Last Updated: March 22, 2007 19:40 IST
India face the tough task of having to beat a rampant Sri Lanka in their final World Cup Group B game on Friday if they are to avoid the ignominy of a first round exit.
The 1983 champions need to overcome a team possessing all-round skills comparable to champions Australia or face the fate of traditional rivals, Pakistan, who were knocked out after their shock defeat to debutants Ireland.
Sri Lanka are poised to qualify for the Super Eights following a pair of easy victories, but India's surprise loss to Bangladesh in their opening fixture could help their unfancied neighbours to progress with a win against lowly Bermuda.
The Bangladesh defeat has already led to intense reaction in cricket-mad India, where millions of fickle fans will be glued to Friday's game hoping their team can advance by defeating a side now rated as a leading contender.
With so much at stake, Friday's showdown will be considered the biggest of the tournament so far, overshadowing Saturday's group game between Australia and top-ranked South Africa after both teams ensured qualification with two easy wins apiece.
Indian coach Greg Chappell has urged his players to overcome their fear of failure, which appeared to work in their record 257-run victory margin against debutants Bermuda.
That victory has improved India's net run rate -- the difference between runs scored and conceded in a given number of overs -- over Bangladesh, which could prove crucial if three teams tie on points.
An Indian defeat would allow Bangladesh to advance with any result other than a defeat against Bermuda on Sunday.
Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene is keen to settle the score with India after his team's recent 3-1 series defeat.
"We knew it would be a great challenge to go there (India) and play," he told reporters. "Now it is probably our turn to show them.
"This is a different venue, different conditions and we are looking forward to it."
Jayawardene also wants to make sure his team carries forward the two points for a win over a fellow qualifier.
Sri Lanka enjoy a 3-2 win-loss record in World Cup matches, but India have won their last two meetings in 1999 and in 2003, where they went on to reach the final.
Sri Lankan new ball bowlers Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga could prove a handful for Indian batsmen, who struggled against Bangladesh's pacemen on a Queen's Park Oval pitch that has aided early seam movement.
Sri Lanka would fancy their own batting after opener Sanath Jayasuriya led the way against Bangladesh on Wednesday by hammering his 24th one-day hundred.
Indian skipper Rahul Dravid will have to decide whether to play young paceman Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who can take early wickets but has been expensive in one-dayers.
India have been boosted by a return to form for attacking opener Virender Sehwag after he blasted a rapid century in their win over Bermuda.
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