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Aug 25, 2010

Wayamba confident ahead of Champions League

Wayamba, the Sri Lankan domestic Twenty20 champions, are one of the low-profile teams heading for the Champions League, but could surprise some of their more famous competitors with a squad containing 11 players who have international caps. They exited in the first round of the Champions League last year but the biggest name in their line-up, Mahela Jayawardene, said that experience will help Wayamba put up a better show in South Africa next month.
"Last year was a bit of an eye-opener for us, participating in that kind of an event," Jayawardene said at a press conference where the team's new shirt was unveiled. "We had quite a few players who hadn't played against international teams. It was a great opportunity for them. We realise where we went wrong; most of our guys now have much more experience playing T20 cricket, playing domestically as well."
Wayamba played both their matches in 2009 on a difficult Feroz Shah Kotla pitch, losing to the Delhi Daredevils and beating one of the favourites, Victoria, before bowing out on net run-rate. Their captain, 29-year-old Jehan Mubarak, was also confident the lessons learnt in India last year, and Wayamba's thorough preparation for this campaign, will yield results.
"We are much more prepared than we were last year, we have had the experience of playing in a previous Champions League," Mubarak said. "Our preparation has been quite extensive this year; we have been practising for at least three months. We have the talent and experience among us to deliver the goods."
In the domestic competition, Wayamba steamrolled their way to the title, winning every game, most of them by big margins. Asked about his team's strengths, he mentioned the opening combination of Jayawardene and 36-year-old Jeevantha Kulatunga, who was Player of the Tournament. "We won most of our games quite easily, lot of that due to Mahela and Jeevantha who gave us brilliant opening stands right throughout the tournament," Mubarak said. "But apart from that there's the bowling and the fielding, the combined team effort and the unity with which we played."
Another of Wayamba's strengths is their spin department, spearheaded by left-arm spinner Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis, who could fluster the many batsmen in the Champions League who have never faced him. "It is very tempting [to play both spinners], depends in addition to the conditions on the opposition as well, how well they play spin," Mubarak said. "It is early summer in South Africa, pitches might be on the slow side, might take a bit of turn."
The team have a couple of warm-up matches, against Royal Challengers Bangalore and local side Titans, who did not qualify for the tournament, to get used to the South African conditions. Jayawardene said holding the Champions League in different countries will help increase the number of cricket fans around the world. "Taking the Champions League across makes sense, you create a new audience," he said. "We saw the second IPL, when we played in South Africa, fan base that was there surprised everyone, taking it across the cricket playing countries would create a different brand itself and a new fan following as well."
Wayamba's first game is against South Africa's Warriors on September 11. The other teams in their group are IPL champions Chennai Super Kings, Big Bash winners Victoria and New Zealand's Central Districts.

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