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All eyes on hosts

Kumar Sangakkara – a class act.

The title of “chokers” is worn unwillingly by the South Africans and perhaps it’s because they believe another international side should at least share it.

Sri Lanka, the 1996 World Cup champions, have been to three international cricket finals over the last six years and have lost them all. In the 2007 World Cup final they were beaten by a rampant Australia. Then in the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup final they succumbed to Shahid Afridi and his inspired Pakistanis. Then in 2011 they completed the three-peat when they went down to India in the World Cup.They will first be hoping that on their home turf, they not only reach the finals, but they bring joy to their cricket-crazy nation by getting over that final hurdle that has eluded them for 16 years.

And they have the ammunition to do it.

In Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Tillakeratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka possess three world class batsmen in any format and in home conditions, as history has shown, can prove impossible to control on familiar surfaces. The supporting cast of Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews are also quite capable batsmen in this format.

Their bowling stocks are equally adept in home conditions with Lasith Malinga’s pace, swing and accuracy virtually impossible to collar even on a below-par day. Off-spinner Ajantha Mendis, back from a long injury lay-off, has a lot to prove and could be a handful on helpful wickets with his each-way turn.

Over the past few months the stocks of fast-bowling all-rounder Thisara Perera have started to rise with consistently good performances and along with the tried and tested Nuwan Kulasekara, Sri Lanka possess as potent and as balanced a team as any in the competition. Depending on their mind-set and response to national expectations, the thousands in the stands urging them on could be their vital “twelfth man”. The enthusiastic shouts and unified adulation shown the team, will be a far cry from the division of an ethnic war that lasted 37 years and led to the death of thousands in Sri Lanka. Victory will not only electrify the nation, it will further unify it.

Sri Lanka have played 42 Twenty20 internationals, winning 25 and losing 17. Of the Test-playing nations they have losing records to New Zealand (4-5), Pakistan (3-6) and India (2-3). Their leading batsman in the format has been Jayawardena with 994 runs in 37 matches with a strike rate of 138.95, while Mendis has the most scalps with 46 wickets in 22 matches at the amazing economy rate of 5.45.

Sri Lanka opened the Twenty20 World Cup this afternoon with a crushing victory over Zimbabwe.

Tournament predictions – should make the semi-finals and likely finalists.

Squad: Mahela Jayawardena (cpt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Tilakeratne Dilshan, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Akila Dananjaya, Dilshan Munaweera, Thisara Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Nuwan Kulasekara, Shaminda Eranga, Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal

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