CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

India v Sri Lanka, 26 May 1999

by John Polack

Whether it is by virtue of luck or imagination (or even a combination of the two), whoever was responsible for the fixturing in this World Cup should take a bow. Not only do we have two nicely balanced groups, but we have been afforded consistently enjoyable games at a myriad of venues hitherto unseen by most cricket followers living outside of the United Kingdom. Moreover, the ordering of the games has ensured that a great deal has been at stake in each of the matches which have been contested between the nine major nations assembled here.

This next game - between Sri Lanka and India at Taunton - is certainly no exception. Had it been fixtured a week ago (at the point at which both teams had lost each of their opening two matches and appeared to be in danger of disappearing from the event almost without trace), it would have lost much of its appeal. But, as matters stand now - coming as it does after both teams enjoyed emphatic wins in their previous games and set within the context of the fact that Group A's third-placed team, Zimbabwe, has suddenly started losing - it has become one of the tournament's most palatable contests of all. If a week is a long time in politics, then it seems that it may be even longer in a cricket World Cup!

For the Sri Lankans, the opening part of this tournament has borne out many of their supporters' pre-World Cup fears that the conditions prevailing in this part of the world at this time of the year are far from suited to their team's game. The soft pitches, the cold weather, the consistent travelling, the general lack of high class practice facilities, and the swinging ball, have indeed all played their part in helping to subdue the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga and Muttiah Muralitharan from performing at anywhere near their best. Nevertheless, the portents for a revival now seem to be in place. The performance against Zimbabwe at Worcester on Sunday was especially encouraging, for it was a win which was achieved in efficient fashion and without a strong contribution from many of the team's big names. As was so effectively demonstrated in the last World Cup, this outfit only needs confidence to gain some winning momentum and, when this consideration is allied to the notion that it seems improbable that at least some of the afore-mentioned players will not spark at some stage during this visit, suddenly their chances of progressing to the Cup's next phase don't seem so remote at all.

The Indians, similarly, have had a strange tournament but also appear to be ready to overcome their early problems. After their somewhat unlucky loss to South Africa at Hove (in which they presented the Cup favourites with by far their most exacting test of the competition to date) and their nightmarish defeat to the unfancied Zimbabweans at Leicester in the absence of their trump card, Sachin Tendulkar, their spectacular batting performance to down Kenya in the third match seems to have set them right back on course. Moreover, with Tendulkar back (and in the most imperious form imaginable even despite the personal tragedy by which he has recently been confronted) and Dravid, Ganguly and Ramesh all among the runs as well, their upper order now has an air of near-invincibility about it. As long as the irrepressible Javagal Srinath can be given an appropriate degree of support with the ball, thus it seems that their hopes of reaching the last six are not anywhere as futile as they had appeared a week ago.

To all of these ends, this is a match to sate the appetite of every fan who enjoys watching positive, drama-charged cricket. Add to the equation the fact that its conclusion is very unlikely (notwithstanding the distinct lack of security and crowd control that is continuing to plague this event) to be disrupted in the same manner as the closing stages of their World Cup semi-final in Calcutta regrettably were in 1996, and it might well be a fixture which remains etched in our memories for years to come.

Why you should watch: This is as close to sudden death cricket as we will witness at this early stage of the event and it should, accordingly, be a magnificent contest. For the victor, a berth in the Super Six beckons; for the loser, the consequences are almost too painful to imagine.

Neutrals may care to enjoy: Each team is stronger in batting than in bowling - and it is therefore likely to be shotmaking which will prove the most enduring feature of the match. Watch particularly for the brilliant use of wristwork in the strokes, for when these teams' players execute cuts, sweeps and glances, it is rare that you will see them played any better by anybody anywhere.

Players to watch - Sri Lanka: Aravinda De Silva. On a small ground, this may well be the day on which this superb cricketer - one of the inspirations behind his team's glorious World Cup triumph three years ago - shows the return to form which many are anticipating. If it is, enjoy the masterful batsmanship which will be on show!

India: Saurav Ganguly. Ganguly surprisingly missed out on the chance to score heavily in the team's remarkable batting display against Kenya, and so will be doubly keen to do well here. He is an excellent opening batsman (as well as a handy medium pace bowler) and he rarely fails to make an impact for his team, let alone in successive matches.

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