World Cup 2019: Struggling Sri Lanka gets pep talk from Sanga, Mahela ahead of opener

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene had a few words with the Sri Lanka World Cup team ahead of its first match against New Zealand.

Sri Lanka begins its World Cup campaign against New Zealand in Cardiff on Saturday, having not had the perfect workout in the build-up to the tournament proper with losses in both its World Cup warm-up matches.   -  AP

New Sri Lanka skipper Dimuth Karunaratne said his struggling side has received timely advice from former greats including Kumar Sangakkara ahead of the World Cup opener against New Zealand here on Saturday.

Sri Lanka, which won the tournament in 1996 before making consecutive finals in 2007 and 2011, enters the 2019 edition on a difficult recent run of form.

It is ranked ninth among the ten teams competing here in England and Wales and has been whitewashed 5-0 four times in three years. It called up Karunaratne to skipper the side, despite the opener not playing an ODI for his country in four years.

But the likes of Arjuna Ranatunga — captain of the 1996 winning team — and Kumar Sangakkara have given this squad their backing.

Read: Confident NZ eyes winning start against Lanka

“Sanga came and gave us some words of advice which was really helpful, he did really well in the last World Cup so it was useful to hear how he prepared, mentally and everything else,” he said here on Friday.

“Arjuna who lifted the World Cup in 1996, he spoke to us and gave us advice before we left Sri Lanka.

“That is the sort of thing we need to be courageous, past cricketers coming in and helping us. Mahela (Jayawardene) is also here and we hope he will come and talk to us as soon as possible.”

Karunaratne realises that he has a daunting task ahead.

“It is not easy when you don’t know the players and they haven’t played a single game in a long time. Even me, I came back into the side after four years so it is not easy.

“But if you get a chance you need to prove yourself. Every time you need to be hungry. Those new players who want to do well, they want to perform to stay in the team.

“I also have some experienced guys that have played World Cups before and they are key if you want to do well, you need those kind of players.”

Karunaratne, who led Sri Lanka to historic Test series in South Africa earlier this year, skippers a squad that includes six players who have 80 or more ODI caps to their name — including veteran and until recently captain Lasith Malinga.

But there are a number of new faces on board as well, including Avishka Fernando and Isuru Udana, and that inexperience could work in their favour, according to the captain.

“No-one seems to remember the domestic level of games. All the other guys who have played in the last couple of years failed to perform for Sri Lanka,” added Karunaratne, who has not decided if he will open or bat at No.3 on Saturday.

“That is why the selectors want to give a new chance to the players who have done well domestically. That was the past. We have a good side with fresh faces, and are trying to start again.

Like four years ago, it opens its campaign against New Zealand.

The Blackcaps downed it back then on its way to a runner-up finish and also claimed a 3-0 ODI series win at the start of the year on home soil.