Sri Lanka are the team of the moment. After a number of recent brilliant performances in New Zealand, Pakistan, Sharjah and Australia,we are no longer the babes of world cricket. Even though Australia start as the favourites for the Wills World Cup, I feel we are peaking at just the right time and, as joint hosts, we have an outstanding chance of turning the tables on more fancied opponents.
There has been a lot of speculation surrounding the future of Muthiah Muralitharan, our leading spin bowler who was called for ‘chucking’ during the recent Test series in Australia. As far as we are concerned, his bowling action is fair and legal. He has been medically tested and it is sci-entifically proved that there is nothing wrong with his action. We have sent these reports to the ICC and we plan to use his off-spin as a major weapon in our bowling armoury.
I feel we did extremely well in the limited-overs World Series Cricket (WSC) in Australia. Reaching the finals was a great achievement for Sri Lankan cricket, especially because of the manner in which we outplayed the mighty West Indies at the round-robin stage. One of the biggest gains for us Down Under has been the emergence of Romesh Kaluwitharana as an attacking wicket keeper-cum-opening batsman. ‘Kalu’ spearheaded our splendid efforts to get to the WSC finals and, if he continues in the same vein, he will have a vital role to play in our World Cup campaign.
To start with, Lanka had very few opportunities to cross swords with the other Test-playing nations. But as we gained in exposure, we gained in stature too. Today, we can be considered a real threat in any international one-day competition.
Genuine cricketing talent was never in short supply in the island nation. It was only a question of time before it flowered. Now the Sri Lankan team has both solidity and flair. Cricketers of the calibre of Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Roshan Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha and Chaminda Vaas have added lustre to the team. I can boldly state that the current batting depth makes us one of the strongest teams in the world.
Of course, it is batting that has always been the forte of Lankan cricket, which has been blessed with superb strokeplayers down the years. Now,however, the bowling has also acquired sting and variety. Left-arm bowler Chaminda Vaas has left the world’s best batsman foxed by his speed and swing. He is backed up in the pace bowling department by Ravindra Pushpakumara and Pramodaya Wickremasinghe. Still, when it comes to one-day cricket, it is not necessary to always have lightning speedsters as the bouncer and wide ball rules are rigorously applied.
As the team has matured, we have reached a stage where there is no over-dependence on a couple of individuals. Everyone chips in and it is this team effort, more than anything else, that has helped us grow. The natural and attacking style ofour batsmen and their determination not to get into a defensive shell should keep us in good stead when the pressure is on.
Sri Lanka’s eyes are trained on the Wills World Cup, make no mistake about it. Our strongest opponents in Group A? None in particular. We will take all our opponents equally seriously. But our performance in the first couple of matches will be extremely crucial. Psychologically, this squad is ready to meet any challenge. Our stint in Australia has done us a world of good. And we are now ready to take on the rest of the world. On its own terms.