Host not willing to commit on mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis for the opening match

Host Sri Lanka meets confident New Zealand in the first match of the Super Eights here on Thursday. On paper, both Sri Lanka and New Zealand lost one game each, and hence, there should be nothing much to choose between the two teams.

New Zealand won its first match against Bangladesh by a huge margin and ran Pakistan close, both at the same ground.

Sri Lanka won its first group match against Zimbabwe comfortably but lost a rain-shortened match against South Africa, both in Hambantota.

The manner of defeat is a cause for worry though not the loss itself. Ironically, New Zealand has been here from the start of the tournament and is more comfortable with the ground than the home team.

Disadvantage

It does not help that Sri Lanka has not had a practice session here.

“Ideally we would have liked to have had a session at Pallekele. I think we’re the only team in the group that hasn’t had a session there, so that’s a bit of a disadvantage.

“We thought we were going to get a session but unfortunately didn’t,” said Sri Lanka’s coach Graham Ford, who was with his team in Asgiriya, the ground that was earlier used in Kandy for Test cricket.

“A bit hard here because the outfield is not conducive for fielding practice and becomes tiring towards the end of nets session. But, at the end of the day you’ve got to adjust with what you’ve got,” he added.

Sri Lanka is also the only team that could play in all three venues — Hambantota, Pallekele and Colombo.

“It has been a little tough…It hasn’t been home advantage all the way. But, hopefully we will be able to play with a lot of character tomorrow (Thursday),” said Ford.

Sri Lanka will play in Colombo if it makes it to the semifinals. The host will have to take a hard look at its combinations. Should Mahela Jayawardene open after the disaster in the previous innings?

“We have talked about that. Balance of the side, options, it’s a consideration,” he said. On new face Akila Dananjaya, Ford said that he was in the scheme of things. “He’s certainly not here just to carry the drinks.”

The injured Ajantha Mendis, who took six wickets against Zimbabwe, looked good in the nets, but the team was not willing to commit if he would play.

“With the way he bowled and the ‘X’ factor he brings, it would be a big blow (if he can’t play).

“In T20 cricket you want guys who can win matches on their own and he’s one of those guys. We have a number of quality spinners, fortunately, so if Ajantha can’t play we have a very capable back up,” said Ford.

The teams (from): Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene (captain), T. Dilshan, K. Sangakkara, A. Mathews, D. Chandimal, S. Eranga, R. Herath, N. Kulasekara, L. Malinga, A. Mendis, J. Mendis, D. Munaweera, A. Dananjaya, T. Perera and L.Thirimanne.

New Zealand: R. Taylor (captain), D. Bracewell, J. Franklin, M. Guptill, R. Hira, B. McCullum, N. McCullum, K. Mills, A. Milne, R. Nicol, J. Oram, T. Southee, D. Vettori, B.J. Watling and Kane Williamson.

Umpires: Simon Taufel and Aleem Dar; Third umpire: Steve Davis; Match referee: Javagal Srinath.

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