Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Feb 19: One of the favourites for the trophy, Sri Lanka kickstart their World Cup campaign against minnows Canada, well aware that any slip-up could cause embarrassment at the hands of a side which would be eager to prove its worth at the biggest stage of cricket here tomorrow.
The two sides will face off at the new Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium in Hambantota, located in the south of the island nation.
There were serious concerns whether the construction at the venue would be ready on time but after missing the ICC deadline by more than two months, the organisers managed to complete the venue just ahead of the match.
Sri Lanka will miss the services of middle-order batsman Chamara Silva, who had to remain in Colombo to attend to a death in the family. Silva will rejoin the squad on Monday in Colombo.
Sri Lanka are one of the favourites to win the World Cup, but captain Kumar Sangakkara said he's not looking too far ahead. Sangakkara said he prefers to take one game at a time.
"More than the last match (final), we need to do well in the first match which is tomorrow. That's the most important thing. Our job is to try and win the first game more than try and win the tournament," Sangakkara said.
"You can't take Canada lightly. If you take the warm up game they played against England, they lost only by 16 runs. Every team raises the game when the World Cup comes and we need to raise our game and if we do that we can do well," Sangakkara reminded.
The Sri Lankans will go into the game without knowing what the conditions will offer. None of their players have played at the venue, which has hosted two domestic games and another between Sri Lanka 'A' and Pakistan 'A'.
"This is the second time we are coming here and when we see the ground, it looks nice. When I got down, I was surprised to see the progress they have made. We trained at the ground and there doesn't seem to be any issues. We need to play well whatever the conditions that we get," Sangakkara said.
The Sri Lankan captain who has played in two World Cup tournaments will be leading the side for the first time.
"It's a great privilege and an honour, not just to captain a World Cup team, but to captain this particular team. They are a wonderful bunch of guys and the best we have in Sri Lanka," he said.
The hosts are likely to play two spinners with Ajantha Mendis partnering Muttiah Murlaitharan. Nuwan Kulasekara is likely to share the new ball with Lasith Malinga.
Canada, on the other hand, have played in three World Cups including the last two, but haven't won a game since beating Bangladesh in the 2003 edition.
Their only previous World Cup game against Sri Lanka was in the same tournament in South Africa and it lasted just 140 deliveries as Canada were bowled out for 36 runs, the second lowest total in ODI cricket.
There's lot of Sri Lankan influence in the Canadian side as the team is coached by former Lankan wicketkeeper Pubudu Dassanayake.
Former opener Chandika Haturusinghe is the assistant coach of the side and he would have a fair knowledge about the opposition as he was an assistant coach of the Sri Lankan team until last year.
Ruvindu Gunasekara, who is a 19-year-old left-handed batsman, was born in Sri Lanka and played school cricket for St. Peter's College in Colombo before migrating to Canada.
"I think losing Haturusinghe is a big loss to Sri Lankan cricket. He's one of the best coaches that I have worked with. Canada will benefit hugely by having him," Sangakkara said.
The Teams (from):
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (Captain), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath.
Baidwan, Nitish Kumar, Hiral Patel, Tyson Gordon, Henry Osinde, John Davison, Ruvindu Gunasekera, Parth Desai, Karl Whatham, Khurram Chohan, Jimmy Hansra, Zubin Surkari and Balaji Rao. PTI