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Lankan spinners hold the key against Oz

Malinga Bandara has been the revelation of the series, taking one more wicket than Muralitharan in the preliminary rounds.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2006 12:38 IST

Sri Lanka has one of cricket's all-time great spin bowlers in Muttiah Muralitharan, but it is fellow slow man Malinga Bandara who has raised hopes of upsetting favourite Australia in the tri-series limited-overs finals starting Friday.

Bandara has been the revelation of the series, taking one more wicket than Muralitharan in the preliminary rounds.

Playing as a supersub, he destroyed South Africa in the decisive final preliminary match on Tuesday, taking four wickets, and showed his class to Australia earlier in the competition, claiming 4-58 in a victory at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The opening two games of the three-match finals series are to be played at Adelaide on Friday and Sydney on Sunday, with both pitches assisting the slow bowlers. Australia struggled early in the series but has slowly built toward the peak form expected of the world's No.1-ranked limited-overs team.

Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody realizes his side, ranked No.7, will need to be at its best to contain a side which piled on a record 344-6 against South Africa in its previous match.

"Both wickets can take a little bit of turn, particularly Adelaide, having had such a dry summer," Moody said. "The ball may turn a little bit more there, and the (shorter) square of the wicket boundaries also probably suit a few of our batsmen."

"But we are still going to have to play our best cricket to stretch Australia to the limit. We did that well in Sydney and we know going into the finals series that's the game we have to play," said Moody.

Australia's limited-overs player of the year, Mike Hussey, acknowledges the games in Adelaide and Sydney, before a potential decider in Brisbane, give Sri Lanka a chance to make the most of its in-form spinners.

"Those sorts of pitches, Sydney and here, suit them a bit better but we're still confident," Hussey said. "We had a good win against Sri Lanka here, but it certainly does suit them a bit better than pitches like the Gabba and maybe even the Telstra Dome (Melbourne)."

Bandara, a 26-year-old legspinner, is third among the wicket-takers in the series, with 13 scalps, behind Australian Brett Lee (15) and South Africa's Andrew Hall (14).

"I think he looks an excellent cricketer," said Hussey. "It's the first time I've seen him and he also seems like a great competitor, as well. He's always in the fight and that's a good sign. To go with Murali and (Chaminda) Vaas and (Ruchira) Perera, I think it gives them a pretty well-rounded attack."

Lee, meanwhile, rose to the top of the latest ICC oneday bowler rankings Thursday on his strong tri-series form. He replaced teammate Glenn McGrath, who is missing because his wife Jane is battling cancer.

Adam Gilchrist, whose stunning 88 off 66 balls Sunday laid the foundation for Australia's record tally, overtook his captain Ricky Ponting at the top of the limited-overs batting rankings as the world champion Australians continued to exert a stranglehold on the 50 overs game.

First Published: Feb 09, 2006 11:50 IST