India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand hope to put in impressive performances in a tri-series starting on Tuesday to boost confidence ahead of the Champions Trophy.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India side start as favourites despite missing injured opener Virender Sehwag and paceman Zaheer Khan, having beaten both New Zealand and Sri Lanka in their own backyards in their last one-day series.
India are seeking a hat-trick of wins in Sri Lanka after clinching a pair of bilateral five-match series in August 2008 and in February this year.
Each team will play two league matches before the top two qualify for the final on September 14. The hosts clash with New Zealand in Tuesday’s opening game.
Sri Lanka’s record-breaking Muttiah Muralitharan believes the series will help the teams prepare for the eight-nation Champions Trophy which opens in South Africa on September 22.
”The tri-series will be good preparation for the upcoming Champions Trophy,” said the off-spinner who is the world’s leading wicket-taker in Tests (783) and one-day internationals (511).
”New Zealand have shown in the past few days how much more dangerous they are in the shorter version, winning both Twenty20 matches, and India have happy memories of Sri Lanka after two series wins here in the last 13 months.
”It will be a great test for the Sri Lankan team.”
Daniel Vettori’s New Zealanders salvaged some of their reputation when they stunned the hosts in two Twenty20 internationals last week after being whitewashed in the preceding two-Test series.
”The guys will take a lot of confidence from that,” Vettori said after his team’s Twenty20 success.
”They can take that into the one-dayers. For us, to make the final will be a great stepping stone for the Champions Trophy.”
Focus will be on Indian batsman Rahul Dravid and New Zealand paceman Shane Bond, returning to one-day sides after playing their last match in 2007.
Bond, 34, became eligible to play after severing links with the unauthorised Indian Cricket League, while Dravid, 36, was recalled ahead of India’s busy international schedule for his wealth of experience.
Vettori was impressed with Bond’s form in the Twenty20 matches in Colombo where the fast bowler bagged three crucial wickets.
”It’s great for him to start the way he has and I think he’ll get better and better,” said Vettori.
”He looks confident and when Shane is confident, he’s really a good bowler. I think we’ll see more of that as the one-day series goes on.”
Dravid got the selectors’ nod after a couple of younger batsmen failed to cope with short-pitched deliveries in the World Twenty20 in England in June.
He is only the second Indian after Sachin Tendulkar in the current team to have completed 10 000 one-day runs.
India’s South African coach Gary Kirsten welcomed Dravid’s return.
”It’s good to have him back,” Kirsten said recently. ”He is a very experienced player and adds massive value to the team. He is a natural performer.”
India will play New Zealand on Friday and take on Sri Lanka on Saturday in back-to-back matches. — AFP