Wed, Jun 25, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Sri Lanka faces formidable rivals in Asia Cup defense


Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan delivers a ball during a team practice session in Lahore on Monday.


Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene knows only too well the two best teams in the Asian Cup stand before his team and a title defense.

“If we have to win this tournament, we have to beat the best,” Jayawardene said yesterday, a day before the 2004 champions take on Bangladesh in their opening match of Group B, which also includes the United Arab Emirates.

“It is very important for us as we are the defending champion of the Asia Cup and [also] the World Cup finalist,” the veteran batsman said.

Sri Lanka will be without injured fast bowlers Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof, but Jayawardene maintains Sri Lanka still has enough firepower in its bowling attack to give Pakistan and India tough time, assume all three advance to the second round as expected.

“We are very passionate about playing cricket and winning matches for our country,” Jayawardene said. “We have been working very hard in preparation for this tournament.”

Sri Lanka still has two world class bowlers who are sure to trouble the big teams in left-arm paceman Chaminda Vaas and prolific offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan.

Despite its credentials in matching the world’s top flight teams in limited-overs cricket, Sri Lanka has experienced a form slump since losing last year’s World Cup final to Australia, winning just eight of its past 22 one dayers with three victories coming against lowly ranked Bangladesh.

“It’s not that we have been playing badly, we are not consistent with our game,” Jayawardene said. “There are some areas in which we needed improvement and hopefully we can get that all right in this tournament.”

Host Pakistan, India and Hong Kong make up Group A, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the round-robin Super Four stage.

Sri Lanka is expected to advance along with Bangladesh and likely meet India and Pakistan, but Jayawardene is wary of taking anything for granted.

“I think it’s important that we respect each and every team that is part of the Asia Cup,” he said. “We don’t discriminate any of the participants, for us it’s all about preparing ourselves and playing to our potential. The only thing we can do is to play to our strength whether it’s UAE, India or Pakistan, we will do the same.”

Jayawardene, Muralitharan, Vaas, Kumar Sangakara and Tillekeratne Dilshan recently competed in the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament, but the Sri Lanka skipper said it was not difficult to readjust to the 50-over, limited-overs format.

“You can take lots of positive from Twenty20 cricket and move on, it’s not a hard thing,” Jayawardene said.

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