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Familiar Rivals Meet In Potential Thriller


In what is the first game of a weekend expected to ignite the ICC tournament, Pakistan take on co-hosts Sri Lanka.

There must be a certain comfort for both teams, not in the form of complacency, but on the grounds of familiarity alone.

Pakistan will be confident that they will have enough experience against Sri Lanka's much publicised bowling attack to triumph, when the teams meet in Sri Lanka’s capital city tomorrow.

In master spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who retires at the end of the tournament, and paceman Lasith Malinga, the co-hosts possess two of the most feared one-day bowlers in the world.

No country has played more games against Pakistan in the last five years, across all three formats, than Sri Lanka with a total of 30 games in total.

In 17 ODI’s since January 2006, the sides have won eight games each. None of the games have been brought down to the wire, but the contest has been competitive and one would imagine that both teams will be stepping it up a notch out there today.

The threat of a resurgent Pakistan team is not lost to the hosts. "I think Pakistan is a great side, they've got great balance, they've got match winning cricketers, not just one but quite a lot of them, so any opposition is wary of them," Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's captain, said.

Pakistan (probable playing XI): Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Kamran Akmal (wkt), Younus Khan,Misbah-ul-Haq, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi (capt), Abdul Razzaq, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar.

Sri Lanka (probable playing XI): Kumar Sangakkara (capt and wkt), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis/Rangana Herath, Muttiah Muralitharan, Thilan Samaraweera/Chamara Silva, Upul Tharanga.

Muttiah Muralitharan will be the key for the men in blue today. Pakistan, over the years, has learnt not to give wickets to Muri; with the maestro only having taken 95 in 64 ODIs against Pakistan. They too are arguably the first country to decode relative newcomer Ajantha Mendis.

Any side that beats Sri Lanka will have to find a way of not only surviving the duo, but scoring off them as well - and that is something Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi believe they can do.

"We know the importance of the match and I am confident that we are up to the Sri Lankan challenge, whether it's Malinga or Muralitharan," said Afridi.

"In Sri Lankan conditions and pitches, Muralitharan is always very dangerous and he could probably turn the ball on a marble. He has so much experience, knows conditions well and that's why he is the best," he added.

If, as expected, Sri Lanka chooses to retain Ajantha Mendis as a second frontline spinner, it will mean that Thishara Perera's place could come into question.

Lasith Malinga, the spearhead Sri Lanka pacer is expected to start with the new ball after being rested for the tournament opener duo to a minor back pain.

The weather conditions in Sri Lanka’s capital would not only test the Sri Lankan pacer but also be a test for the fitness of Pakistan’s express man, Shoaib Akhtar, who is constantly under scrutiny regarding fitness.

On a traditionally sticky wicket, spin bowling is expected to prove the deciding factor.

As the spinners would have an advantage, the outcome of the match may likely come down to which side’s batsmen deal best with the turning ball.




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