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NZ, Lanka in a must-win opening game
February 09, 2003 18:49 IST
Sri Lanka start their campaign in the World Cup with a crunch match against New Zealand in Blomfontein on Monday, realising fully that the result of their first game could well have the final bearing on their progress to the later stages of the tournament.
The losers of tomorrow's game would be left to beat both the West Indies and South Africa to clinch a place in the Super-six, assuming that the matches against minnows Bangladesh, Kenya and Canada go according to expectations.
However, Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya was not worried about getting such a crucial match early in the tournament.
"It is good to get a tough match out of the way early," he said, looking at the positive side of it. "That way we can plan better for the rest of our matches."
New Zealand, on the other hand, have a tougher task since a mere win may not be enough for them. Having decided not to travel to Kenya for their league game, they are almost certain to concede four points, and they would be looking for a big win tomorrow to improve their net run-rate which could prove decisive in the final analysis.
"We generally start the tournaments well," New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said. "We will do well because we believe in the squad we have got."
Sri Lanka have been boosted by the return of their match-winning bowler Muthiah Muralitharan, who has recovered from a thigh-muscle injury sustained during the tri-nation series in Australia last month.
Jayasuriya was relieved to have Muralitharan back in the team and said the off-spinner provided his team the winning edge.
"It is a big relief that Murali is fit again. His return adds the extra yard to our effort in the field," he said.
"He is a fantastic bowler and he wants the ball in his hand all the time. He is always confident of doing well and as a captain you cannot ask for a better person at tough times," Jayasuriya said.
Fleming conceded Muralitharan was the biggest threat, but said his batsmen had enough experience to tackle the guiles of the off-spinner.
"We have players who have been around for a long time. It's up to them to deliver," he said.
Jayasuriya, meanwhile, was also drawing hope from the fact that his side had come out better in recent encounters against New Zealand, having triumphed in nine of the previous 12 matches.
"We have played well against them in recent times and know their game well.
"But we will not be foolish to believe that victory will be easy. New Zealand are one of the best sides in the competition and strong contenders for the title. We will have to be on our toes all the time," Jayasuriya said.
New Zealand, on the other hand, are on a high after annihilating India in both the Test and one-day series coming into the World Cup.
They have one of the best fast bowling line-ups with the likes of Shane Bond, Daryl Tuffey and Jacob Oram looking in fine rhythm.
"It has been fairly pin-point sort of stuff from the bowlers, so we are happy," Fleming said. "There's going to be a bit of pressure and anxiety to deal with, but it's going to be that way for all sides."
New Zealand's chances have been given a boost by the return of star all-rounder Chris Cairns from a prolonged injury even though he cannot bowl.
"We will obviouly miss his bowling, but Chris is an integral part of our side due to his batting," Fleming said.
Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Aravinda de Silva, Russel Arnold, Jehan Mubarak, Avishka Gunawardena, Hashan Tillakaratne, Muthiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Pulasthi Gunaratne, Prabath Nissanka, Charitha Buddhika.
New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (captain), Andre Adams, Nathan Astle, Shane Bond, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Lou Vincent, Brandon McCullum.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor (West Indies) and Neil Mallender (England).
TV Umpire: Russel Tiffin (Zimbabwe).
Match-referee: Mike Procter (South Africa).
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