x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Top heavy Sri Lanka soft in middle order

Sri Lanka need Mahela Jayawardene to take the pressure of the top three by scoring runs in Sunday's World Cup final.

Tillakaratne Dilshan is the highest run-scorer in this World Cup so far but he does not have much support down the order. Andres Leighton / AP Photo
Tillakaratne Dilshan is the highest run-scorer in this World Cup so far but he does not have much support down the order. Andres Leighton / AP Photo

COLOMBO // Three of the top five run-scorers in the World Cup are Sri Lankans who have amassed more than 1,200 runs between them over seven games — all but one played on home soil.

The real test of Sri Lanka's world-beating credentials will come in Mumbai on Saturday on an unfamiliar wicket.

Tillakaratne Dilshan (467), Kumar Sangakkara, the captain, (417), and Upul Tharanga (393) — with India's Sachin Tendulkar (464) and England's Jonathan Trott (442) — lead the pack of World Cup batsmen but have the 1996 World Cup winners relied too heavily on the top three batsmen to come good every time?

The statistics show that the remaining batsmen have averaged a total of just 72 runs between them over the World Cup, although admittedly they have not been needed that often.

Mahela Jayawardene started the tournament by racking up Sri Lanka's fastest ever century in the World Cup when he made 100 off 80 balls against Canada. However, in the remaining five innings he could only make a further 101.

"Everyone talks when a batsman fails," Sangakkara said. "The questions are natural, is he OK? Is he out of form? Are you worried? It happens in cricket."

But the Sri Lanka captain supported Jayawardene - a veteran of 340 one-day internationals. "Mahela is the kind of a player who can turn up and destroy any side, there's no doubt about it," he said.

Sri Lanka must be hoping Muttiah Muralitharan stays fit for another 100 overs before hanging up his boots in international cricket on Saturday.

Muralitharan shrugged off injuries to finish with two for 42 in front of his home fans on Tuesday.

Angelo Mathews, meanwhile, strained his side while fielding but came out to bat with a runner for a match-winning sixth wicket stand of 35 off 33 balls with Thilan Samaraweera.

"It shows how hungry they are to perform," Sangakkara said. "Murali has had a tough time in this tournament, he is not 100 per cent but the way he bowled was exceptional."

"Angie [Angelo Mathews] came back when he was needed, finished the job for us.

"We feel very happy that we are in the final, but sad that Murali has played his last game in Sri Lanka with us.

Sangakkara anchored the innings with a brilliant 111 against New Zealand at Mumbai, but was not sure what type of wicket he would be getting for Saturday's final.

"It's hard to say," he said. "The wicket against New Zealand was unbelievable, it had pace and bounce, it had movement not much turn at all, it was good to bat on once you saw the new ball off.

"But I am not sure whether we will get the similar wicket again when we face the opposition on Saturday.

"We've got to come off that high [semi-final win] very, very soon. By the time we get on that plane we've got to understand what lies ahead of us ... that is now the only game that counts, not this one, not the one before."