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Lanka look to grab early initiative

Fresh from its 5-0 drubbing of Eng, the hosts will take on Boucher-led Proteas in series opener.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2006 15:13 IST

Sri Lanka is looking to extend its impressive limited-overs home record on Monday when it faces South Africa in a tri-series cricket tournament that also features India. Fresh from its 5-0 drubbing of England, Sri Lanka is eager to wipe out the unpleasant memory of its earlier 2-0 loss at home against Pakistan in the 2005-2006.

Sri Lanka has been virtually unbeatable in home limited-overs competitions over the past decade -with the exception of its loss to Pakistan, a 3-2 defeat to Australia in 2004 and the dismal show of 2003 when the side failed to qualify for the final of a tri-series that New Zealand won by defeating Pakistan.

The Mahela Jayawardene-led Sri Lankan team has been boosted by its recent 2-0 test series triumph against the injury-hit South Africa, which is still ranked No. 2 behind world champion Australia in the ICC's one-day rankings.

India's 4-1 loss to the West Indies on its recent tour of the Caribbean dropped it to the No. 4 spot, while Sri Lanka is placed sixth in the standings, but the Sri Lankans are formidable in their home conditions.

Jayawardene says he expects a tough contest from South Africa and India, which thrashed Sri Lanka 6-1 when it hosted its neighbor last year.

"We've been playing very good cricket, but this is going to be a tough series," said Jayawardene. "Winning is about doing the right things."

Sri Lanka's cricketers spoilt Rahul Dravid's first overseas sojourn as India captain last year, defeating the Indians in the tri-series final at Premadasa Stadium, which will host the first match of this three-nation limited-overs competition. India has failed to win a limited-overs tournament final in Sri Lanka since its 1998 triumph in the Independence Cup. The higher-ranked team has finished second best to Sri Lanka in several one-day competitions since then.

In 2002, India and Sri Lanka shared the Champions Trophy after the final was washed out on two successive days. But Sri Lanka asserted its home supremacy against India in the title contest of the 2004 Asia Cup and a tri-series in 2005.

Dravid promised to make amends this time, asserting that his team had been playing well since last year.

India's runaway wins against Sri Lanka at home and on the tour of Pakistan underscored its growing one-day strength, but the team's pride was dented by the defeat inflicted on it by the West Indies. Dravid asserted the return of star batsman Sachin Tendulkar would help in the reversal of India's fortunes. Tendulkar, one-day cricket's highest run-scorer, returns to the team after several months following a shoulder surgery.

"Tendulkar's presence contributes a lot to the team, and it's not just his batting that makes a difference," Dravid said. South Africa is hampered by the absence of two top players - Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis - due to injuries that forced them to skip the tour.

"It's a huge challenge, but it provides a chance to some of our youngsters," said South Africa coach Micky Arthur. Sri Lanka can afford the luxury of not rushing the return of former skipper Marvan Atapattu, who has returned to the squad after surgery that kept him out of the tour to England and the recent tests against South Africa.

"Marvan's coming back from a major operation, so we don't want to rush him," said Jayawardene.

The Sri Lankan organizers are hoping the tri-series isn't hampered by monsoon rain, which has left the grounds damp.

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