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Cricket World Cup: Sri Lanka prepares for Cup final

Sri Lanka supporters
Sri Lanka supporters were in excellent heart during their win over New Zealand

By Saroj Pathirana
BBC Sinhala Service

As national team captain Kumar Sangakkara has mentioned, cricket - a religion rather than a sport for the whole of the subcontinent - is arguably the only thing that unites all Sri Lankans.

During the peak of the conflict between the government soldiers and the Tamil Tiger separatists, it was said that even the rebels halted fighting to watch Sri Lanka playing in international games.

On Saturday, when Sri Lanka meet India in Mumbai, the country will grind to a halt.

While some fortunate Sri Lankan fans - including President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage - will travel to India, millions of others, those in the island as well as the diaspora, will be glued to television screens.

While all Sri Lankans hope that Sangakkara's men will repeat Arjuna Ranatunga's success story in winning the tournament in 1996, serious concerns remain over the performance of the team, the middle order in particular, so far.

Many fans and analysts believe Sri Lanka are heavily dependent on the top four batsmen, a criticism shared by chief selector Aravinda de Silva and Ranatunga himself.

"I think Sri Lanka was the luckiest team in the tournament," says Channaka de Silva, the sports editor of the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka's English-language daily.

"In group stages and the second round, up to the semi-final, Sri Lanka did not have to face the strongest teams."

"India, for example, has the calibre of Suresh Raina who is capable of scoring a century having come to the crease as the seventh batsman," adds de Silva, pointing out that Sri Lanka's biggest challenge will be how to avoid a middle order collapse against India.

Chaminda Rathnasinghe, a fan in Colombo, has come up with a suggestion.

"I think Chamara Silva should be replaced with Tisara Perera. Thisara can bowl, is a good fielder and a fearless attacker in the innings end," he says.

Writing in his exclusive World Cup column for the BBC, Tillakaratne Dilshan, the tournament's leading run-scorer, argues that the middle order did not have an opportunity to perform during the tournament as the top four batsmen were always on top form.

In the semi-final against New Zealand, argues Dilshan, the lower order were up to the task when three consecutive wickets fell on a slow pitch.

Kumar Sangakkara
Victory for Sangakkara's team would immortalise the players

Chaminda Vaas, who is travelling to Mumbai together with Suraj Randiv as injury cover for Angelo Mathews and Muttiah Muralitharan, agrees with Dilshan.

"The team seems to be playing with a very good plan and they did not seem to be feeling the pressure," says the most successful fast bowler Sri Lanka has ever produced.

"When you are playing with seven batsmen, usually all seven don't perform and what we noticed during the tournament is top four batsmen were among the runs. The middle order did not have an opportunity as a result."

Mahendra Mapagunaratne, who has coined many cricket phrases including "Dilscoop" has another argument on Sri Lanka's success.

In his opinion, Sri Lanka team should be: "The Originals of Sangakkara", following Bradman's "Invincibles" and Steve Waugh's "Untouchables".

"The Sri Lanka team has many innovative players who are original and are basically identifiable through their uniqueness - Murali, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Dilshan and even Rangana Herath," he says.

Mapagunaratne, however, says Sri Lanka's "Originals" only have a 50% chance of winning the biggest game of their careers on Saturday.

In 2007, when Sri Lanka were defeated by Australia in the World Cup final, mainly as a result of Adam Gilchrist's superb performance, I was in Barbados covering it live for the BBC Sinhala service.

The Caribbean nations as well as all Asians I met in Barbados were then united against their arch-rival in cricket, Australia.

Interestingly, it is a completely different scenario in 2011, the first time two Asian nations meet in a cricket World Cup final.

While many Pakistani fans, and perhaps even those in Bangladesh would support Sri Lanka, South Asia's big brother is obviously supporting its own team.

But Sri Lanka's underdog status might ultimately help the island nation, according to Ranjan Paranavithana, a coach, commentator and the managing editor of Kreeda Viththi sports magazine.

"Having qualified for the final, India is under immense pressure from the fans to win the World Cup," he says.

"It is possible that that might ultimately work in Sri Lanka's way."

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see also
Sri Lanka edge NZ to reach final
29 Mar 11 |  Cricket
India beat Pakistan to make final
30 Mar 11 |  Cricket
Win was like a final - Harbhajan
31 Mar 11 |  Cricket
S Lanka row over cricket tickets
25 Mar 11 |  South Asia
Tillakaratne Dilshan World Cup column
26 Mar 11 |  Sri Lanka
Cricket World Cup 2011
09 Mar 11 |  Cricket

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