Sri Lanka open against sparky minnows
February 20, Hambantota
Start time 14:30 local time (09:00 GMT)
Sri Lanka begin their World Cup campaign - the first in Asia since they stunned the world 16 years ago - against Group A minnows Canada. With a team forged around much of the same group of players that made it to the final in the Caribbean last time around, Sri Lanka start as one of the tournament's fancied sides. Canada - a team of immigrants, expats and five home-grown former Under-19 stars - have had a good run in the warm-up against Netherlands and England but will need a World Cup miracle to beat Kumar Sangakkara's side.
Sri Lanka's home record is imposing but the surroundings of Hambantota are almost as unfamiliar to them as they are to the visitors. A new pitch at a new stadium, the captains have been keen to praise the look of both. The state of pitches at this tournament is already shaping up into a bone of contention, and set against the fiasco at Eden Gardens, the Sri Lankan board should be credited for getting the stadium ready in time.
The last time these two met in the World Cup, Canada slumped to the lowest World Cup score in history. The entire cricketing infrastructure in Canada has improved since then, with players centrally contracted for the first time and big sponsors like Reebok jumping on board. Upsets have been hard-wired out of the format for this World Cup, and with the ICC taking it a step further next time by expelling Associate nations altogether, a competitive show from Canada would do wonders to the minnows' case for inclusion.
Form guide(Most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWLWW
Pitch and conditions
The Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium has not yet hosted a full international match so the pitch in Hambantota is something of an unknown quantity. There were concerns when the pitch produced a low-scoring 'A' match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but at the time the curator insisted his pitch was not to blame. After practicing at the ground Sangakkara was happy, saying "the wicket looked fantastic and the conditions were beautiful for cricket". The Sri Lankan weather has been anything but for recent series and there were a few clouds circling on the eve of the game, which could mean an early outing for Duckworth and Lewis, in their fourth World Cup.
Watch out for…
There is still something about the 50-over format that promotes unqualified utility players, who are unable to hold their place in either discipline. England have Luke Wright, while Australia have John Hastings. Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews is the model the rest are chasing. In the last 12 months Mathews has averaged 54.50 with the bat, 32.90 with the ball, and has been a lynchpin behind the celebrated duo of Sangakkara and Mehela Jayawardene.
After his exploits against England, there is one Canadian that everyone will be looking out for: Gun batsman Rizwan Cheema. The Pakistan-born's ODI strike-rate of 119.4 beats even Shahid Afridi for crazed slugging. Faced with Lasith Malinga's slingers and Muttiah Muralitharan his task is less than straightforward, but alongside the youngsters in the side and captain Ashish Bagai, he could be the prime contributor of runs.
Sri Lanka's top-order is settled and the only contention is over the last bowling place. Ajantha Mendis' star has faded as his mystery unravelled with exposure so he competes with the Rangana Herath for the second spinner's role. If the damp conditions prompt another paceman, however, Thisara Perera might come up on the blindside to take the final bowling spot.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Thilan Samaraweera, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Dilhara Fernando, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Lasith Malinga
Canada have banked on their youngsters to support their array of more experience imports and will be hoping Hiral Patel and Nitish Kumar can come good.
Canada (probable): 1 John Davison, 2 Hiral Patel, 3 Nitish Kumar, 4 Ashish Bagai (capt & wk), 5 Jimmy Hansra, 6 Rizwan Cheema, 7 Zubin Surkari, 8 Khurram Chohan, 9 Balaji Rao, 10 Henry Osinde, 11 Harvir Baidwan
Try picking the XIs for tomorrow's game by playing Team Selector.
Stats and trivia
- The last time these teams met at the World Cup, Canada were bowled out for 36 and swept aside by nine wickets in a match that lasted a mere 23.2 overs - the quickest in World Cup history.
- Since making successive hundreds against Pakistan and Bangladesh in Karachi in June 2008, Kumar Sangakkara has played 59 matches, and made 1970 runs at 37.16, without ever passing three figures.
- Canada's opening batsman, and producer of one of World Cup cricket's most dazzling centuries - John Davison - is, at 40, the oldest player in the tournament.
"Hard-hitting. I like to hit the ball... Out of the park"
Rizwan Cheema gives a description, and warning, about the kind of player he is
"You can't change what other people say about us whether they say that we are good enough to win the tournament or whatever."
Kumar Sangakkara doesn't like the 'favourites' tag.