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Weather threatens to spoil the show

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GEARING UP: The Sri Lankan fast bowlers Lasith Malinga (left) and Ruchira Perera will have an important role to play in case of a truncated game with moisture likely on the surface after rain. Photo: V. Ganesan
GEARING UP: The Sri Lankan fast bowlers Lasith Malinga (left) and Ruchira Perera will have an important role to play in case of a truncated game with moisture likely on the surface after rain. Photo: V. Ganesan

S. Dinakar

Persistent spells of rain disrupted training sessions and washed out India's practice match

Colombo: The dark clouds hardly presented a bright picture for the days ahead. The persistent spells of rain disrupted the training sessions and India's practice match on Sunday was a non-starter. More showers have been forecast in the next 72 hours.

There is a question mark over the Unitech tri-series' opening contest, between Sri Lanka and South Africa at the Premadasa Stadium on Monday. However, match referee Chris Broad clarified there is a reserve day as well for the matches in this competition. But will rain abate?

The team-managements realise that inclement weather could change the dynamics of the duels. With the Duckworth and Lewis method looming large, the captains will keep an eye on the scoring rates. This suggests the batting order could witness some alterations.

There could also be a larger role for the pacemen in a truncated game, where the Sri Lankan spinners could get marginalized. There might also be a measure of assistance for the pacemen due to the heavy atmosphere created by the dense clouds and moisture on the surface.

Advantage of fielding

Opting to field has its advantages in these conditions. The pacemen could strike early to deny the batting side momentum. The D&L method also tends to benefit the chasing side since the team batting second has a better idea about the required run-rate at the various stages of the innings.

Mark Boucher might not hesitate to field since he does not have quality spin options but it will be a huge decision for Mahela Jayawardene to make. The Premadasa Stadium pitch traditionally favours the spinners in the second half of the contest as the surface gradually turns slower. The sides pursuing a target here have usually been ambushed by the Lankan spinners.

Jayawardene is aware of this fact. And he is not willing to reveal much. "We will be announcing our eleven on Monday after a review of the conditions. If it is a shortened match then our strategy will be different. Two of the pitches have been re-laid at the Premadasa and they assist the pacemen early on. But the wicket still slows down as the contest progresses," the Lankan captain said.

Lankans buzzing

The Sri Lankans were forced to practise at the indoor facility at the Singhalese Sports Club Stadium. The side appeared to be buzzing; Muttiah Muralitharan was humming too. These are glory days for the prolific off-spinner.

While the experience of Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya is still priceless for Lanka, the emerging players have made telling contributions. "The younger cricketers have been given the freedom to express themselves," said Jayawardene. He attributed Sri Lanka's recent success to the rising confidence levels and a proper role definition.

Jayawardene modest

Despite turning things around for Sri Lanka as its skipper, he remains modest: "When Marvan (Atapattu) becomes fully fit again, he will be the captain."

Atapattu, returning after a back injury, is unlikely to figure in the first game, though. "We don't want to rush him into Monday's match," Jayawardene said.

The South Africans are keeping their fingers crossed on the fitness of pace spearhead Mkhaya Ntini, nursing a strained hamstring. Considering his value to the attack, the team-management is unlikely to risk Ntini unless he is a hundred per cent fit. If Ntini does not play, Roger Telemachus might get a look-in. There is an element of doubt about Pollock's fitness too.

Despite being severely depleted, the side has a number of fighting cricketers who can bridge the gap between ability and performance. Loots Bosman is an exciting young prospect up the order. The dashing Herschelle Gibbs and the wily Shaun Pollock are potential match-winners. And Mark Boucher, a cricketer with a tigerish resolve, should be able to motivate his men. As his opposite number Jayawardene conceded, no South African side can be underestimated.

But then, the sky is still painted in grey and the cricketing picture appears hazy.

The teams: Sri Lanka (from): M. Jayawardene (captain), M. Atapattu, U. Tharanga, S. Jayasuriya, K. Sangakkara, T. Dilshan, P. Jayawardene, M. Maharoof, C. Vaas, S. Malinga, M. Muralitharan, C.K. Kapugedara, C. Bandara, D. Fernando, R. Perera. Coach: Tom Moody.

South Africa (from): M. Boucher (captain), A. Hall, L. Bosman, A.B. de Villiers, H. Dippenaar, H. Gibbs, A. Prince, S. Pollock, R. Peterson, A. Nel, M. Ntini, R. Telemachus, J.J. Van der Wath, D. Steyn, T. Tshabalala. Coach: Mickey Arthur.

Umpires: Billy Bowden and Asoka de Silva; Third Umpire: Peter Manuel; Match Referee: Chris Broad. Hours of play: 2.30 p.m. (IST) to 6 p.m. & 6.45 p.m. till end of match.

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