| Maravan Atapattu, who carries a head injury, warms up with teammates Friday, the eve of the tie versus Pakistan. (AFP)
Dambulla (Sri Lanka): Sri Lanka and Pakistan clash in the opening match of the tri-series in a Buddhist temple town here Saturday, hoping to resurrect their cricketing fortunes.
A lone one-day International has so far been played at this venue in central Sri Lanka, famous for rock-cut caves, temples and meditation centres.
Dambulla, declared a world heritage city by Unesco, hosted its only match in March 2001 when Sri Lanka thrashed England by five wickets in the opening game of a three-match series.
The hosts look forward to a similar start in the tri-series, also featuring New Zealand, in order to put their rebuilding process on the right track.
Sri Lanka have been passing through a lean patch since their World Cup semi-final finish in March.
Prolific batsman Aravinda de Silva has retired, coach Dav Whatmore’s contract has not been renewed and Sanath Jayasuriya has quit captaincy.
A four-nation limited overs tournament in Sharjah last month was a wake-up call for Sri Lanka, who failed to qualify for the final after losing to Pakistan and Zimbabwe in league stage.
The hosts could not return to winning ways even at home under new captain Hashan Tillekeratne as Stephen Fleming’s New Zealanders put up gutsy performances to draw a two-Test series.
Veteran opener Maravan Atapattu is the new one-day captain on whose shoulder lies the burden of redeeming the team’s image.
He, however, is a doubtful starter for Saturday’s game as he has not fully recovered from a head injury sustained in a collision with Daniel Vettori while trying to run the batsman out in the recent Kandy Test.
Vice-captain Mahela Jayawardene will lead the sidein his absence.
Pakistan also find themselves in a more or less similar situation despite winning last month’s Sharjah tournament beating a none-too-formidable Zimbabwe in the final.
The Sharjah success was an encouraging beginning for the new-look team, but skipper Rashid Latif has said the team still has a long way to go before becoming a force to reckon with in international cricket.
Equally eager to perform well in this tournament is tearaway quick Shoaib Akhtar, who has been warned that this series could make or mar his career.
NZ the best bet
Of the three teams, New Zealand appear to be at peace with themselves.
They came here without ace allrounder Chris Cairns and experienced batsman Nathan Astle, but still managed to cope with off-spinner Muttiah Muralidharan’s threat to draw a two-Test series in hot and humid conditions.
New Zealand did what India, the West Indies and Zimbabwe could not do in recent years. All those three teams had failed to read Muralidharan and consequently lost Test series in Sri Lanka.
The Black Caps owe their success to Fleming, who led from the front with an unbeaten double century in the Colombo Test to set the tone for the short series.
With the return of Cairns, Chris Harris and Andre Adams for the one-day series, New Zealand appear to be the most settled team and could ruin Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s hopes.