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Rain may turn spoilsport in Lanka

india Updated: Aug 13, 2006 20:13 IST
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Rains pose a major threat to the ambitions of India and South Africa as they look forward to set right their dismal one-day record in Sri Lanka in the Unitech Cup cricket tri-series that starts in Sri Lanka on Monday.

Thunder showers have lashed the capital city in the last 48 hours affecting the preparations of the three teams and weather forecast predicts more rains in the next five days, threatening a washout of the first two matches.

The South Africans, who take on the hosts in the day-night series opener at the Premadasa Stadium on Monday, have a poor record of one win and nine losses of the 11 matches they have played in Sri Lanka in the shorter version of the game. Only one match has ended without any result.

The world No. 2 side's lone win came in 1993 when they won the second of a three-match series, a pathetic 10 per cent success as against their overall winning percentage of 64.

The lacklustre showing of the South Africans in Sri Lanka appears surprising in comparison to their combined home and away 20-21 win-loss record against the island nation.

However, the Indians, whose first match is on Wednesday against Sri Lanka, are only marginally better with a 32 percent winning record in the neighbouring country.

The Indians would know very well that their swell of pride after the 6-1 series win against the Sri Lankans at home stands a chance to ebb away once they enter the lion's den.

Also, speedster Makhaya Ntini is a doubtful starter following a hamstring injury which he picked during the second Test against the hosts.

In the absence of Smith and Kallis, wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Boucher has to lead the African nation and the seasoned player, declared fit to play the practice game yesterday, is ready to don the skipper's mantle.

"I have taken the job very much as a stand-in captain. I have done it before, it is not new for me," he said.

On South Africa's 2-0 loss to Sri Lanka in the Test series, fielding coach and former Test batsman Jonty Rhodes said they paid the price for their rustiness.

"We were a bit rusty coming into the series from an off-season. We improved with each passing day, and in the final Test we did well to fight back to make the match that much closer. We thought we have lost at lunch," Rhodes said.

The only positive South Africa have picked from the Test series is that they have got used to the conditions.

The rains, which washed out South Africa's warm-up match yesterday and India's today, could work in the favour of the two visiting teams as a wet outfield would mean less grip for home spinners, making it easier to chase under lights.

Still, it would be foolhardy to underestimate Muttiah Muralitharan who has taken 123 wickets in 84 matches at a staggering strike rate of 37.1 at home.

The captains could also have a torrid time, constantly comparing their total with the corresponding par score on the Duckworth-Lewis chart.

Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's stand-in captain, refused to call his team the favourites, though.

"We have played good cricket recently but I won't call ourselves the favourites. Both India and South Africa are very good one-day sides," he said.

Marvan Atapattu, the regular skipper, is yet to recover from an injury and Jayawardene said the team would not risk rushing his senior teammate.

"He is a key member of our team, and there is lots of cricket ahead," he said.
Kumar Sangakkara is expected to return to the role of wicketkeeper-batsman to lend balance to the team.

Jayawardene had responded to the captaincy responsibilities well. He led the team to a come-from-behind 1-1 Test series draw in England and capped it with the whitewash over the Proteas.

His personal form with the bat has only got better, carving a sequence of fine performances with an innings of 374, the highest individual score by a Sri Lankan, in the first Test against South Africa.

There is alarming coincidence here for the Indians. Rahul Dravid too was a stand-in captain when the team came here an year ago for the Indian Oil Cup, and the team, despite losing the final, began its upswing from there.

Teams

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Kumar Sangakkara, Upul Tharanga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Tillekaratne Dilshan, Marvan Atapattu, Chamara Kapugedera, Farvez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Malinga Bandara, Ruchira Perera and Prasanna Jayawardene.

South Africa: Mark Boucher (capt), Boeta Dippenaar, Loots Bosman, Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Shaun Pollock, Johan van der Wath, Robin Peterson, Andrew Hall, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Roger Telemachus, Dale Steyn and Thandi Tshabalala.

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