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Time Murali's support cast got its act together

KANDY, MARCH 15. Muttiah Muralitharan is expected to play despite a stomach upset on the eve of the second Test and skipper Hashan Tillakaratne is confident that the off-spinner will give Australia trouble on his home ground.

Tillakaratne expects crowd favourite Muralitharan to get more support from the Sri Lankan bowling attack than he did last week at Galle, where he took 11 wickets in a 197-run loss to the Australians.

``That's where we went wrong — we didn't have bowling support for him. We need to concentrate more on that,'' Tillakaratne told reporters on Monday. ``We might go with two fast bowlers, it's a likely option.''

Muralitharan's stomach ailment shouldn't stop him from becoming only the third bowler to surpass 500 Test wickets and the unseasonal wet conditions won't bother him either, said Tillakaratne.

``He should be ok. He was complaining he's got a bad stomach early in the morning, but it's not a major thing.''

Sri Lanka is expected to change its game plan, add more bowling options and combat Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne after crumbling for 154 in the fourth innings of the first Test.

The experiment with Chaminda Vaas as the only fast bowler and three spin-bowlers backfired for the Sri Lankans at Galle, with coach John Dyson predicting the recall of left-arm fast bowler Nuwan Zoysa. ``This is renowned as being one of the bounciest decks in Sri Lanka, we'll probably play two quicks,'' said Dyson.

Australian skipper Ricky Ponting was considering adding a third fast bowler to his line-up, with Brad Williams likely to join Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz. Williams could come in for wrist spinner Stuart MacGill and Simon Katich could return in favour of Andrew Symonds in the middle-order.

Ponting said rain around Kandy in the last four days had made the pitch and outfield greener than usual and perfect for fast bowlers. ``Brad — he's been bowling well all summer. At times he was the pick of our fast bowlers,'' Ponting said. ``That's a positive for us if we decide to go with three quickies.''

Ponting said he'd learned the value of patience on sub-continent wickets during his first Test match as Australian captain last week and would reinforce that to his batsmen.

Fireworks in store

But if conditions are right on Tuesday, the Sri Lankans could expect some fireworks from the bowling attack. ``If the pitch is green and we go in with three quicks, then we'll probably be trying to blast them out,'' Ponting said.

The Australians are eager to win the second Test and wrap up their first series win on the sub-continent since the 1-0 win at Pakistan in 1998-99. ``We feel like we're in good touch,'' said Ponting. ``We're pretty confident with the way we're playing and we'll take that into this game.''

The Australians would, however, have to be cautious of Muralitharan even if the pitch offers more bounce than turn. ``There's every chance on a wicket that doesn't turn as much, that he can be more dangerous,'' Ponting said. ``It doesn't matter what Murali bowls on, he still takes wickets.''

Muralitharan has 496 wickets and is quickly catching up with Warne (501), who passed the 500 barrier with 10 wickets in Galle. The pair is chasing Courtney Walsh's record of 519.

Sri Lanka has four wins and seven draws in 16 Tests at Kandy. The Australians are 1-1 at the ground, and haven't played since 1999 when Gillespie and Steve Waugh were involved in a collision.

The teams (from):

Sri Lanka: Hashan Tillakaratne (capt.), Marvan Atapattu, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Avishka Gunawardene, Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa, Nuwan Kulasekara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Rangana Herath, Upul Chandana and Kaushal Lokuarachchi.

Australia: Ricky Ponting (capt.), Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds, Simon Katich, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz, Stuart MacGill and Brad Williams. — AP

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