Jayasuriya praises batting partner after they establish new record

Rex Clementine reporting from Bloemfontein, South Africa
 Sri Lankan cricket captain Sanath Jayasuriaya after his side won the crucial first round game against New Zealand here at Goodyear Park, Bloemfonttein praised his batting partner Hashan Tillakarathne, one of the architects of the Sri Lankan win along with him, saying that the left-hander's game has improved a lot.

 Tillakarathne, who was dropped from the side four years back staged his international comeback at Test level in 2001 and earned a last minute place in the World Cup pool for his consistency in the Test Matches and due to the inconsistency of some of the younger players who were brought in. While his inclusion attracted a lot of criticism, his promotion to bat at number three was even severely criticised. But the 35-year-old, left-hander played a vital role in Sri Lanka's win yesterday holding on to one end after coming to the crease in the sixth over of the match. At the end, he was unbeaten on 81.

 "We are playing seven batsmen these days and want at least two of them to get big runs. If two batsmen score big we can put up good scores like today. I got a good start and decided to stay on, Hashan got runs and there were others who chipped in although they didn't make huge contributions. The important thing is if a person gets settled, he needs to make it big. Hashan seems to have improved a lot. He looks more aggressive now as he showed today. I feel he has brought in more stability to the side and I am very happy about the way he played today," he remarked.

 The 170 run partnership off 182 balls of Tillakarathne and Jayasuriya created a new Sri Lankan record in the World Cup for the second wicket beating the previous best between Jayasuriya himself and the left-handed Asanka Gurusinghe. That partnership was worth 102 runs and was made against England at Fasilabad in the World Cup quarterfinal in 1996.

 Peaking at the right time

 Although the Sri Lankan skipper didn't single out where they'll end up in the tournament, he believed the side is peaking at the right time, "If you take a look at our performances in recent times, I think we are improving all the time. Later on in the VB series in Australia we started doing well. Both bowling and batting seemed to come through. We have had the ideal preparation for the tournament by playing a series in South Africa and then in Australia although our performances were not all there. The experience gained in these conditions just before a crucial tournament like this is great,"

 Although the wicket at Goodyear Park, which generally assists seam bowlers, was termed as a fine wicket for the fast bowlers, it didn't give major scares to the Sri Lankan batsmen. The pace that was expected was certainly not there, but there was sideways movement for the fast men. With a lot of talk going on about the pitch and it's failure to live up to Stephen Fleming's expectations, we asked Jayasuriya his thoughts on the Goodyear Park pitch, "If I had won the toss I would have batted first," he came up with the surprising remark. As for the New Zealanders, they wanted to make use of the wicket first and that didn't come through, but it was a good batting wicket although it got a bit slower as the day progressed,"


 The Sri Lankan side left Bloemfontein to Pietermaritzburg yesterday. Their next game will be in another three days time against Bangladesh at Pietermaritzburg on the Valentine's Day. Until 28th of February all Sri Lanka's fixtures will be easier ones. On the 19th the Lankans will play Canada at Boland Park while on 24th they'll be in Nairobi to play Kenya. The 28th fixture is against the West Indies and the side's last Group game will be on the 3rd of March against the hosts South Africa at Kingsmead. Both the last two games will be day-night affairs.