Rediff Logo World Cup 99
May 10, 1999

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Mahanama asks the question, Thorpe holds firm

The Rediff team

We take a look at warm-up matches played over the weekend, with a view to analysing the state of preparedness of teams heading into World Cup-week, and what we see is Roshan Mahanama -- who has either queered the pitch for the Lankan team management or handed them an unlooked for bonus, depending on how you look at it.

In Sri Lanka's warm-up game against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, Mahanama -- coming in for Romesh Kaluwitharana who had to sit that one out with a neck injury -- slammed an unbeaten 142 and was largely instrumental in helping his side reach a formidable 288 for five.

The 32-year-old Mahanama was picked for the squad out of the blue, in a bid to bolster its fielding. And now his batting has given the selectors something to think about -- namely, to pick or not to pick?

"It's a nice problem to have," said manager Duleep Mendis. "There are really three batsmen challenging for two places (the reference being to Hathurasinghe, Mahanama and Tillekeratne) and obviously after this performance, Roshan is right in the frame."

It would have been surprising if he weren't bang in the centre of the Lankan frame -- Mahanama's innings, spanning the entire 50 overs, had nine fours and four sixes. And more crucially, he added a very good 136 with Aravinda De Silva (66). He then teamed up with skipper Ranatunga to blast 60 off the last eight overs.

With Ranatunga, Aravinda and Mahanama coming into form early, the Lankan batting has a formidable look to it ahead of the lung-opener against England on May 14. The side's problems lie in the bowling department -- though both Chaminda Vaas and Pramodaya Wickremasinghe claimed four apiece in what in the end proved a comfortable win, the wickets owed more to rash strokeplay by the Nottinghamshire batsmen, than great bowling by the two seamers.

Thus, Muralitharan, who returned to action after an injury layoff with a brilliant performance in Lanka's first warm up game, is the only bowler who looks likely to threaten the host nation, this Friday -- and that is a problem Sri Lanka will need to solve in a hurry.

Unless of course, the team's strategy essentially aims at duplicating 1996, when the Lankans won the Cup on the strength of its formidable batting.

AT Chelmsford, meanwhile, England (229-7) defeated Essex(228-9) by one run.

That won't exactly have the punters lining up at the William Hill counters to put their bottom pound on the home side.

Interestingly, the heroes of the day were Nasser Hussain (82 from 112) and Stuart Law (64 from 74) -- the former with an eye on a place in the England starting eleven, the latter with a point to prove after being dumped by the Australian selectors.

The two put on a 120-run second wicket partnership and when Law was dismissed, Essex needed just 75 from 15 overs and seemed almost certain winners.

So what does that tell you about the state of England's bowling?

To add to their worries, Alec Stewart and Nick Knight got them off to another lousy start, indicating the the problem with the top of the order is a long way from being solved. Graeme Hick, coming in with two down for little, promptly went for a duck and if Graham Thorpe and Mark Ealham hadn't come good in the nick of time, England would have suffered a most embarassing defeat.

Thorpe in particular was outstanding -- having allowed the bowlers their share of respect early on, he took them apart in the end overs with good support from Ealham, who rattled up a fine 37 off 35, before coming back to take 4-39 from his ten overs (one of his victims being the key one of Law).

Ealham in fact has been the only England player consistently on song. The shakiness at the top, coupled with the inability of the bowlers to strike any kind of form, should be the factors worrying the England management the most.

IF England's problems are good news for India, Azharuddin and his camp received some more of the good stuff in the performance of Zimbabwe.

Derbyshire registered an effortless 5-wicket win over the side rated as the dangerous floaters in India's group, and in the process underlined the lack of match practise Zimbabwe has been handicapped by.

Still, it was strange to see Zimbabwe go down for 178 against an attack minus Dominic Cork and Derby's other frontline seamer Kevin Dean.

"We had a bad day," coach David Houghton admitted. "No one was knocking the ball around for singles and it was almost schoolboy cricket."

Matthew Cassar and Michael May, with a partnership of 120 in 28 overs, further embarassed the Zimbabwe outfit, indicating that its bowling had a lot of work to do before the side was in a position to take on the big boys.

Houghton added: "We are just pleased to get a game in. We are so short of match practice, the only competitive cricket we've had in four months has been a little triangular tournament in Bangladesh. You can see by the way we batted in this match that the boys are struggling for form but we will get it right. Up until Christmas, we were playing good cricket and if the World Cup had started on January 1, you would have fancied us but now we have some catching up to do."

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