The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Middle-order, fielding the worry’
- Tri-series vs england - Hashan Tillekeratne wants team to remain focussed on the game

Colombo: Sri Lanka’s cricket captain is more worried about brittle middle-order batting and sloppy fielding than the political crisis that has gripped this tropical island as his team prepares for a three-Test series against England.

“It doesn’t bother us, we just concentrate on our game. The English tour is on so we have to keep ourselves focussed,” Hashan Tillekeratne said in an interview on Tuesday.

English cricket authorities expressed concern over travelling to Sri Lanka after the island plunged into a political crisis last week when President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three key ministers of her rival Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s cabinet. She suspended parliament and briefly declared a state of emergency. The Prime Minister said he will meet the President on Wednesday for talks.

The Sri Lankan cricket board, meanwhile, said the England tour is very much on.

Tillekeratne said that his team, coming off a long break after their West Indies tour in June, are well prepared.

Sri Lanka’s last two campaigns against England were a failure. They lost a home series 1-2 in 2001 and suffered a 0-2 series defeat in England last year.

Sri Lankans have since crashed to the seventh place of the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings from third, losing to South Africa and the West Indies last year and drawing a two-match home series against New Zealand.

Tillekeratne rates England as a good side with top class batsmen and bowlers but said Sri Lanka still had an edge over them playing in their home conditions in front of home crowd.

“When I look back at the last two series against England, they won not because they played good cricket, just that we played bad cricket. We gave it to them on a platter,” Tillekeratne said.

“I’m sure if we identify our mistakes and can rectify those, we can give them a good fight.”

“I’m not bothered about the rankings. If we can play well and play as a team I’m sure we can come up in the rankings,” he said.But worries for Tillekeratne are a fragile middle-order and sloppy fielding.

“As we all know our middle-order is a bit brittle. We just want to improve on that and our catching also has to improve. So we are working on those areas,” he said.

Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s no. 4 batsman, has not scored a century since his 107 against England at Lord’s in May 2002, while Kumar Sangakkara’s last big score, 230, came in March 2002 in the Asian Test Championship final against Pakistan.

Sri Lanka’s bowling strength remains intact despite the absence of pacer Prabath Nissanka through injury, Tillekeratne said, rejecting opinions that key bowlers Muttiah Muralidharan and Chaminda Vaas have faded.

One cricket analyst commented last week that the last three Test series have seen both bowlers’ strike rate rise over 70 balls per wicket.

Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who emerges from a four-year exile since his first Test series, could be a possible spin partner for Muralidharan.

Tillekeratne said that a “decent opportunity” would be given to uncapped pacers Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga to enable them to perform without pressure.

Tillekeratne, 36, who was re-appointed captain in April in a restructuring process after a failed World Cup campaign, has not won a Test so far.

“I’m new to this role so I just want to make sure that I lead from the front and that we win,” Tillekeratne said.

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