| Mahela Jayawardene heaves one as Romesh Kaluwitharana looks on during practice at the Rangiri Stadium in Dambulla Saturday. (AFP)
Dambulla, May 17 (AP): Rival captains Maravan Atapattu and Rashid Latif have challenged their batsmen to produce runs when the second round of the tri-series gets underway with a crucial encounter tomorrow.
“My batsmen must start valuing their wickets, they need to quickly fight a way out of the batting slump,” Atapattu said as his team prepared to defend its five-year winning record of limited overs series at home.
To protect their unbeaten series record here since July 1998, Sri Lanka need to avenge their 79-run series opener loss to Pakistan when the teams meet again tomorrow.
Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand all start the second round with a win and a loss apiece, but the bonus points system puts the Black Caps (seven points) atop the standings. Pakistan have six and Sri Lanka five.
“One’s got to accept that Sri Lanka’s batting is going though a terribly lean patch,” said Atapattu. “This has gone far too long, but we’ve worked hard on our batting and hope to reverse the trend — it’s time now for the batsmen to deliver.”
Atapattu said his batsmen are capable of dominating at Rangiri Stadium, where the swinging and bouncing ball has given bowlers the ascendancy.
The fresh and lively pitch, with excessive moisture during the morning session, has turned the matches into a virtual lottery as the toss plays a crucial role.
Batsmen have struggled, but Latif feels it gives his young line-up the perfect learning environment. “So what if conditions are tailor-made for pace bowlers, the batsmen must learn to handle such adversities,” he said.
Pakistan overhauled their team after the World Cup. A clutch of seniors were dropped and a new-look team was fielded in last month’s four-nation Sharjah Cup.
“The match against Sri Lanka is a crucial one,” Latif said. “A repeat of our first-round win will instil confidence after our loss to New Zealand. A win on Sunday could spur us to the second one-day title in two months.”
Latif said the conditions in Dambulla had dictated the low scores, but batsmen must not shed their positive outlook.
“Our bowling has been clinching us victories, now it’s time for the batsmen to prove their mettle,” Latif said. “This is a Test that should steel our young batsmen for future challenges.”
Latif ignored a painful groin strain, sustained during Pakistan’s first match, to play in the second game. The skipper said the five-day break had helped him recuperate for the next round.
Each win is worth five points and bonus points are awarded if the winner achieves a run-rate 1.25 times that of the opposition, but the losing team retains the point by not conceding it.
The bonus point that slipped out of Sri Lanka’s grasp boosted New Zealand’s tally, but Atapattu said he wasn’t unduly perturbed. “Our first priority was to get back into the winning mode, the bonus point was secondary,” Atapattu said. “We’re out to prove that Sri Lanka have not forgotten winning at home.”
The two top teams advance to the May 23 final.
Sri Lanka (from): Maravan Atapattu (captain), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Romesh Kaluwitharana, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Russel Arnold, Upul Chandana, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralidharan, Prabath Nissanka, Dharshana Gamage, Kaushal Lokuarachchi, Kumara Dharmasena, Kaushalya Weereratne.
Pakistan (from): Rashid Latif (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Faisal Iqbal, Yusuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Sami, Umar Gul, Yasir Hameed, Shabbir Ahmed, Faisal Athar, Danish Kaneria.
Umpires: Daryl Harper and Tyronne Wijewardene. Third umpire: Gamini Silva.
Match Referee: Gundappa Vishwanath.