Sri lanka take on Pakistan in a potential cracker

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Old 26-Feb-2011
Sri lanka take on Pakistan in a potential cracker

Colombo February 26:

That Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi cancelled a scheduled pre-match press conference at 12.30 pm and joined his team for Friday prayers instead was illustrative of the fact that his boys know they are in for a huge scrap against hosts Sri Lanka.

The sub-continent giants meet in a potentially explosive Group A clash of the 2011 World Cup at the refurbished R Premadasa Stadium on Saturday. Afridi knows his team needs to do more than just play good cricket to get the better of the 1996 champs and title favourites. Hence, the call to the Almighty for some divine intervention.

The delays though didn't come just from the Pakistan side. Host captain Kumar Sangakkara reciprocated in apt fashion when he turned up more than an hour late for his press duties. The reason given: 'Team Meeting'. Both teams know this is crunch time or close to it and although the weaknesses of the other opponents in the group ensure a safe passage for both Pakistan and Sri Lanka to the last eight, both units are already thinking far ahead and where they might finish in terms of for the quarterfinal draw.
Despite the intensity in their battles, for curious reasons, Pakistan vs. Sri Lanka has never been billed as a marquee contest. In the sub-continent, it's always been India vs. Pakistan that has attracted the eye-balls. But if the two teams play to form, we might just have a hum-dinger. And both sides can do the ICC and the World Cup a favour by dishing out a spectacle because it's been a week into the 'Cup That Counts', and we are yet to have a nail-biter.

The match will also be the first at the Premadasa after the Compaq Cup Tri-series final between India and Sri Lanka on September 14, 2009 in which Sachin Tendulkar had cracked a glorious ton and India defended 319 with ease as Harbhajan Singh ran through the Lankan outfit picking up five wickets. India had won the toss that day and batted as that's what sides did whenever they played a day-nighter at Premadasa. Of the 88 games that have produced a result here, 55 times the side batting first has won. Has anything changed in the 16 months since? Will the toss, such an important factor at this venue, continue to be the boss on a pitch that is newly laid?

On Friday, a day before the game, the pitch bore a typical bald, light brown, almost whitish hue and was baking under the unrelenting sun. Will the baking lead to its breaking, especially in the second innings? That's the question on everybody's lips. If the new pitch is a twin sister of the old one and the team that bats first puts up a total in excess of 250, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Both Pakistan and the hosts have the slow-bowling arsenal to frustrate the array of stroke-makers in either line-up in the second innings.

Sangakkara though played down the value of the toss and the pitch, but he couldn't really understate the importance of calling it right when the coin goes up. "Any side would like to win the toss, but if you don't happen to win it, there's not much you can do. You just go out and try to do your job," he stressed. He also was all praise for the re-laid strip and didn't think batting second would be a handicap. "The ball comes on a lot better under lights on this new pitch as we experienced during the warm-up game against West Indies. Hopefully, this one will behave in the same manner."

There's added incentive for Sri Lanka to do well apart from the full house. The hosts have a dubious record to correct. Sri Lanka have played Pakistan six times in the World Cup, but they are yet to emerge victorious. Sangakkara, never one to concede a mental edge, stated, "I wasn't aware of that record. But hopefully we can do our basics better than Pakistan and change that." Had there been no doubts over Lasith Malinga's fitness (he has a bad back), it would have been easier for Sri Lanka to try and change history.

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