Saroj Pathirana, BBC World Service
Cricket fans and analysts alike in Sri Lanka hope that the 1996 champions can repeat their World Cup success when the 2011 event starts on Friday. Sri Lanka are co-hosting the tournament with India and Bangladesh. Roy Dias, a former vice-captain and national selector, said: “If you compare the 1996 and 2011 teams, both are very well balanced. “I think Kumar Sangakkara’s team is focused very much to win the World Cup,” he told the BBC Sinhala Service. “There are plenty of bowling varieties with Rangana Herath coming to the team as a left-arm spinner.”So with Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, the spinning department has three different types of bowlers with Tillakaratne Dilshan as the extra off-spinner. We also have five fast bowlers who are very good.”
Dias has some concerns about the batting and added: “In 1996 we had Sanath Jayasuriya, Asanka Gurusinghe, Arjuna Ranathunga and Hashan Tillakaratne as left-handers. “Now we have only Upul Tharanga, Sangakakara and Thisara Perera, who is more of a bowling all-rounder, so I would have preferred Thilina Kandamby as a left-handed batsman.
“Out of Kandamby, Chamara Kapugedara and Chamara Silva we could have had a left-handed batsman in the middle to give some strength and variety to batting as well or someone like Jeevan Mendis.” He also sees many similarities and differences between Ranatunga and Sangakkara’s captaincy. “I feel that Kumar is a very strong captain, very hard person, similar to Arjuna,” Dias continued. “But of course they are two different styles of players. We can also see similarities between the Arjuna-Aravinda de Silva combination and Sangakkara-Jayawardene combination. It definitely goes in pairs.”
Marvan Atapattu, a former captain and another member of the 1996 team, believes that the combination of a team which is in good from, home advantage and crowd support will be the crucial factors if Sri Lanka are to be successful. “With all these factors in place, the team that keeps up the concentration level will be the winner at the end of the day,” Atapattu told the BBC Sinhala Service. “The most important thing I think, is that the players should enjoy the fact that they are playing in a World Cup. That is what coach Dav Whatmore always told us during the 1996 tournament,” he added. Atapattu said fans high expectations over Sri Lanka’s chances might be an added pressure to the team but it will be difficult to avoid. “The team should not take it as a pressure, they should focus on their game and enjoy instead,” stated the former Sri Lanka skipper, who lost the opportunity to lead the country in the 2007 World Cup because of injuries. He, however, believes that there are huge differences between the team in 1996 and 2011.
“I think there was not a single professional player in the team in 1996,” he said. “We all were doing our jobs in different places when we were not playing cricket. But that situation has completely changed, all the players are professionals now and whole world knows Sri Lanka as a cricketing nation.”
Therefore, added Atapattu, there would not be a big difference in terms of Sri Lanka’s game irrespective of the outcome of the tournament. “We can only control the way we play. If another team plays better than Sri Lanka on the day, they will obviously be the winners,” he continued. “So we should be able to accept whatever the outcome.”
Meanwhile, a veteran astrologer has predicted that Sri Lanka and England will qualify for the World Cup final, in accordance with present planetary positions in the horoscope of Sri Lanka. Piyasena Rathuwithana, the eminent astrologer who has been advising Sri Lanka’s many heads of state, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has told Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) that England, Australia and India will be the front-runners of the tournament. England and India will enter the semi-finals, according to the planetary positions, but Rathuwithana has predicted that England will get a chance to play in the finals against Sri Lanka. The prediction is the best example of fans expectations over the team’s success at the World Cup.