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Lanka, Pak players seek solace at holy venue

Sri Lanka and Pakistan clash in the opening match of a tri-series in the historical Buddhist temple town of Dambulla on Saturday, hoping to resurrect their cricketing fortunes.

india Updated: May 09, 2003 12:25 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Sri Lanka and Pakistan clash in the opening match of the triangular one-day series in a historical Buddhist temple town here on Saturday, hoping to resurrect their cricketing fortunes.

A lone one-day international has so far been played at this venue in central Sri Lanka, famous more for rock-cut caves, temples and meditation centres than cricket.

Dambulla, declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO, hosted its only match in March 2001 when Sri Lanka thrashed England by five wickets in the opening game of a three-match series.

The hosts look forward to a similar start in the tri-series, also featuring New Zealand, in order to put their rebuilding process on the right track.

Sri Lanka have been passing through a lean patch since their World Cup semi-final finish in South Africa in March.

Prolific batsman Aravinda de Silva has retired, coach Dav Whatmore has been removed and Sanath Jayasuriya has quit captaincy.

A four-nation one-day tournament in Sharjah last month was a wake-up call for Sri Lanka, who failed to qualify for the final after losing to Pakistan and Zimbabwe in league matches.

Yet, the hosts could not return to their winning ways even at home under new captain Hashan Tillakaratne as Stephen Fleming's New Zealanders put up gutsy performances to draw a two-Test series.

Veteran opener Marvan Atapattu is the new one-day captain on whose shoulders lies the burden of redeeming the team's image.

He, however, is a doubtful starter for Saturday's match as he has yet to recover from a head injury sustained in a collision with New Zealander Daniel Vettori while trying to run the batsman out in the second Test at Kandy.

Vice-captain Mahela Jayawardene will lead the side if Atapattu does not regain fitness.

Pakistan also find themselves in a more or less similar situation despite winning the Sharjah tournament in April after beating a none-too-formidable Zimbabwe in the final.

Senior cricketers, including fast bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq, have been axed following the World Cup debacle when Pakistan failed to qualify even for the Super Sixes.

The Sharjah success was an encouraging beginning, but skipper Rashid Latif has said the new-look team still has a long way to go before becoming a force to reckon with in international cricket.

Equally eager to perform well in this tournament is Pakistani fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who has already been warned that this series could make or mar his career.

"This is his last chance to revive his career," Pakistan cricket board chief Tauqir Zia has said of Shoaib.

Shoaib, with 133 wickets in 81 one-day internationals, was a disappointment in the World Cup despite having the pace and bounce to unsettle the best in the world.

Of the three teams, New Zealand appear to be at peace with themselves.

They came here without ace all-rounder Chris Cairns and experienced batsman Nathan Astle, but still managed to overcome off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan's threat to draw a two-Test series in hot and humid conditions.

New Zealand did what India, the West Indies and Zimbabwe could not do in recent years, as all of them had failed to read Muralitharan before losing Test series in Sri Lanka.

The Black Caps owe their success to Fleming, who led from the front with an unbeaten double-century in the opening Test at Colombo to set the tone for the short series.

With the return of Cairns, Chris Harris and Andre Adams for the one-day series, New Zealand appear to be the most settled team in the fray and could put pay to hopes of both Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

First Published: May 09, 2003 12:25 IST