Tue, Oct 24, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Proteas skipper Smith hopes to get on a good wicket


South Africa captain Graeme Smith said he hoped to get a better wicket for today's crucial second Group B game against Sri Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy Tournament.

"It looks a better wicket than what we had in Mumbai and hopefully it produces good game of cricket," Smith said yesterday.

"[Today] whether you bowl first or you bat first, you got to be able to adapt to the conditions as quickly as possible," he said.

Barbourne Stadium's wicket at Mumbai faced criticism last week when New Zealand bundled out the South Africans for 108 after posting a modest total of 195.

"The pitch broke up, the ball turned a hell of a lot," Smith had complained after the game last Monday.

The South African players would face a strong challenge in Sri Lankan spin-king Muttiah Muralitharan after they failed to negotiate Kiwi spinners Jeetan Patel (3-3) and Daniel Vettori (1-15) on a turning track.

"We would love to have [Muttiah] Muralitharan or [Shane] Warne," Smith said. "Any team in the world would want to have the match-winner of that caliber, but not every team has one."

The South African captain was more interested in utilizing his seamers against a strong Sri Lankan batting lineup than worrying about Muralitharan's sharp off-spinners.

"Our strength has always been our seam bowling," Smith said. "I think when Sri Lanka or anyone comes to South Africa they wish to have Shaun Pollock or Makhya Ntini ... it's just about trying to put your strength into the conditions you play and that's what we are going to do [today]."

Sri Lanka -- which won all its three qualifying games -- lost its first match in the main draw when Pakistan recorded a narrow four-wicket win. However, Mahela Jayawardene's team made a quick recovery and defeated New Zealand by seven wickets in the next game.

"Sri Lanka is probably the form team in the tournament," Smith conceded. "Probably the conditions suit Sri Lanka more [today], but it doesn't mean we don't believe that we can't beat them."

"We know we are a quality one-day team -- you don't get to No. 2 in the world by not being able to beat quality teams in their own backyard," he said.

A defeat today would throw South Africa out of semi-finals' reckoning in this biennial tournament, even if the team manages to beat Pakistan in the last group game at Mohali on Friday. However, a victory today would strengthen Sri Lanka's chances for a place in the pre-finals with four points.

"The pressure is on both teams," Smith said. "It's a kind of a knockout tournament."

Sri Lanka would be relying on its inform left-handed opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga to get them off to a flying start. Tharanga is the leading scorer in the tournament with 309 runs that include two centuries in the first two qualifying games against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Kumar Sangakkara (160), Jayasuriya (153), Jayawardene (152) and Marvan Atapattu (119) are the other Sri Lankan batsmen among the top 10 run-scorers of the tournament.

Smith described Sri Lanka as "the team that has got their combinations right and most of their players are performing well."

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