Sri Lanka vs Canada World Cup preview: Sangakkaras side could go all the way

Sri Lanka’s Tillakaratne Dilshan and Canada’s Rizwan Cheema

By Jamie Alter

Making a statement of intent in the first match of World Cup is what world-beating sides do. Australia began their victorious, unbeaten campaigns in 2003 and 2007 with crushing wins. Sri Lanka s previous World Cup began with the annihilation of Bermuda by the whopping margin of 243 runs at Port of Spain and from that win they played good, aggressive cricket to make it to the final. On that fateful day they ran into one man and his little squash ball. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Cut to 2011, and Sri Lanka will kick-off their operation against another low-ranked side, Canada, in their own backyard. Sri Lanka has a chance to grind the opposition into the dust and steady themselves for the far tougher situations that Group A has in store. Beginning with a bang goes a long way in setting a side up, and this is precisely what Kumar Sangakkara s team will intend on doing.

This time around Sri Lanka has been tipped to go all the way, following the semi-finals in 2003 and the final in 2007. It s not always that they earn themselves the moniker of genuine contenders, but it s hard to ignore their pedigree.

Sri Lanka s assets are clear-cut: a solid opening pair followed by the massively experience and solid duo of good mates Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The bowling department is also equally strong with pacers Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Kulasekara complimenting the spin of veteran Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis. Throw in the canny medium-pace of Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera two players tipped by Sangakkara for greatness in the World Cup and you have a potent team.

Where Canada can look to make inroads, however, is at the top, because Sri Lanka s middle order is rather shaky. Neither Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, nor Thilan Samaraweera have made any big runs over the past six months and Canada s only chance of competing is to take out the top four and try and apply pressure on the middle.

Canada, led by the India-born veteran Ashish Bagai, is a young squad. Apart from Bagai, seamer Henry Osinde and all-rounder John Davison he of the whirlwind 67-ball century against West Indies in 2003 are the two other players in the side with prior World Cup experience. The three will remember unfavourably their previous World Cup match against Sri Lanka, at Paarl in 2003, when the new-ball pair of Chaminda Vaas and Prabath Nissanka steamrolled Canada for a paltry 36 in 18.4 overs.

The team s World Cup warm-ups have been fully indicative of how they can fare on the pitch. First up, they were soundly thrashed by Bangladesh in Chittagong, but then they pushed a full-strength England side in Fatullah, with the hard-hitting all-rounder Rizwan Cheema thumping a 70-ball 93 from No. 7 in an attempt to revive his side from 28 for 5 and take them past their target of 244. Canada will hope to put in more of the latter, even if they have no realistic chance of making it past the first round.

Like most Associate teams, Canada has struggled to cope against the big boys of international cricket. And it will take something special from a handful of dashing players if they are to really give the opposition a scare.

Davison is playing his final World Cup and isn t the batsman who tonked the West Indian attack around in 2003, but that innings from Cheema that stunned England should have made others take notice of Canada; those who haven t followed Cheema s career should know that he is a capable player, having smashed 89 off 69 balls against West Indies in 2008. Sri Lanka know a thing or two about being stunned by minnows look at what happened against Kenya in 2003 and won t look to be complacent at all against Canada.

Sri Lanka has a formidable record at home and has always been regarded as tigers in their own backyard. But their captain, Sangakkara, didn t agree that this was a guaranteed factor in the co-host s favour. “We don t know much about the home conditions, as the wickets will be new,” he told this writer in the lead-up to the World Cup.

“Especially the ground in Hambantota, considering it has never hosted a match. If the wickets suit us, and we play the brand of cricket that we know we can, then yes, we will be dangerous. But we can t take for granted the home conditions. If we get to second round, then we will be very confident and have a sense of how to play on these grounds.”

It is that very ground in Hambantota, the Mahinda Rajapakse International Stadium, on which Sri Lanka begin their World Cup campaign. The teams had a lengthy practice session on the eve of the atch, and both captains seemed relatively pleased about the conditions.

It could just be the lull before the storm.

Sri Lanka (from): Kumar Sangakkara (capt and wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath.

Canada (from): Ashish Bagai (capt and wk), Rizwan Cheema (vice-capt), Harvir Baidwan, Nitish Kumar, Hiral Patel, Tyson Gordon, Henry Osinde, John Davison, Ruvindu Gunasekera, Parth Desai, Karl Whatham, Khurram Chohan, Jimmy Hansra, Zubin Surkari, Balaji Rao.

Time: 14.30 local (09.00 GMT)

Umpires: Ian Gould (England) and Shahvir Tarapore (India)

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now)

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