Seeking to recapture the aura of 1996

Sri Lanka, grouped with Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand, is not short of match-winners. Will the side combine effectively as a winning unit, asks S. Dinakar.

Sri Lanka, arguably, possesses the most varied attack in the World Cup. The bowling will assume even greater threat if backed by runs from the batsmen. The side, which triumphed in the last World Cup to be held in the sub-continent, has the ability to recapture the aura of 1996.

Kumar Sangakkara leads a pack that can hurt the opposition. The side has a capable batting force of contrasts where Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillekaratne Dilshan are the key men.

However, it is Sri Lanka's bowling that gives the side an edge over rivals in the sub-continental conditions. Slinger Lasith Malinga can rattle line-ups with the new ball and bend the ball sharply in the end overs. If the islanders require a breakthrough, Malinga can hunt for scalps in the middle-overs as well.

Malinga can swing the ball both ways in a telling fashion and has a deceptive bouncer. He can disrupt a batsman's footwork with well-directed short-pitched stuff, push him to the back-foot and strike with fuller length deliveries. He delivers with his right arm almost parallel to the ground, one side of the ball is covered by his palm and fingers while the other faces the pitch. This is precisely why batsmen struggle to pick his reverse swing where the ball swings towards the shiny side. Given Malinga's action, it is extremely difficult to differentiate the glossy side from the rougher one. And considering Malinga's speed, it can be hard to read and react to the swing as the ball slices through the air.

Malinga has evolved as a bowler. These days, he bowls with greater control and delivers a well concealed slower one. This Sri Lankan brings aggression and intent to the side.

Off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan is another dynamic bowler in the side. Despite the passage of time and the scars it can leave on the body and mind, Muralitharan remains influential. He can contain and strike with his extraordinary spin — his supple wrist and fingers impart stunning revolutions on the ball — and the ability to harness the angles. He is particularly dangerous when operating from round the wicket. The right-hander is unsure whether the delivery will straighten or spin away while the ball spins away from the southpaw. Gifted, Muralitharan certainly is. The off-spinning legend can land the ball on the seam to extract bounce. He can also pitch the ball on the side to get it to skid around. In his final international competition, Muralitharan will be probing the batsmen in a manner that should be relentless.

Ajantha Mendis has been largely sorted out by the sub-continental batsmen but he could still be a factor against other sides. Rangana Herath is an under-rated left-arm spinner with the variety and the commitment to lift his game in the cauldron.

The pace support for Malinga should come from Nuwan Kulasekara's accurate cutters. All-rounder Angelo Matthews lends balance to the side. He has the ability to strike the ball hard in the concluding stages of an innings or send down precise off-cutters. This man is a game changer.

Sangakkara's solid left-handed ways in the middle present a formidable barrier to the bowlers. He can pace his innings particularly well, handle pressure with the heart and technique of a champion performer.

Jayawardene is skilful, uses the depth of the crease to alter length and creates openings with soft hands. The fleet-footed Dilshan has the potential to find the gaps or strike over the infield in the Power Play overs.

Sri Lanka, grouped with Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand, is not short of match-winners. Will the side combine effectively as a winning unit?