Sri Lanka and Pakistan slip out of their World Cup comfort zone today when they face each other in a subcontinent Group A ‘derby’ for their first serious test after both claimed comfortable opening victories.
The match has added significance too as it was a gun attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 in Lahore which led to Pakistan’s ongoing bar on staging international fixtures.
The hosts face a big call on fast bowler Lasith Malinga who according to team manager Anura Tennekoon has recovered from a sore back that saw him rested for the opening game against Canada.
“The team management and selectors will have to take a decision on Malinga whether to play him in the early matches or to keep him for the more important games ahead,” said Tennekoon.
Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions, beat Canada on Sunday by 210 runs and Pakistan, who won the World Cup in 1992, thrashed Kenya by 205 runs on Wednesday, both matches taking place at international cricket’s newest stadium in Hambantota.
In Malinga’s absence, 21-year-old all-rounder Thisara Perera bowled exceptionally well to capture three wickets for 24 off seven overs.
He bowled at great pace reaching up to 140-145 kph, much to the discomfort of the batsman.
With Perera pairing off well with Nuwan Kulasekara who took three for 16 in the Canada game, Sri Lanka may opt to retain the same pair for Saturday’s match.
Sri Lanka may also prefer the left-arm spin of Rangana Herath ahead of Ajantha Mendis whom the subcontinent teams have now familiarised themselves with and dispelled the mystery that was once attached to his bowling as a newcomer.
Herath has been Pakistan’s nemesis as the architect of Sri Lanka’s 2-0 Test series win at home in 2009.
The Sri Lanka batting looks pretty solid with the top order in prime form and capable of running up 300-plus totals on any given day.
“We know how important our next game is,” said Pakistan’s skipper Shahid Afridi.
“Sri Lanka are the best team, especially in their own conditions.
The home advantage will be the main factor in the match,” he said. Pakistan have arrived here determined to clear their tainted image following security problems at home and a corruption scandal. A World Cup victory, they hope, would enable them to convince teams to tour their country.