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Vaas eyes 300th ODI wicket as Lanka plan changes

Sa'adi Thawfeeq reporting from Zimbabwe

HARARE, April 24 - Sri Lanka will stick to their present batting line up of seven batsmen but are looking to make major changes to their bowling ahead of tomorrow's third one-day international against Zimbabwe at the Harare Sports Club here.

With no signs of a breakthrough imminent between the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) and the 15 white rebel cricketers, Zimbabwe are forced to continue playing their inexperienced squad against Sri Lanka who are already 2-0 up in the five-match series.

Zimbabwe Cricket Union CEO and managing director Vince Hogg said that negotiations were still going on between ZCU and the rebel players. He said that ZCU were hopeful that by Tuesday there could be something positive taking place.

As a result Sri Lanka are seriously contemplating resting some of their key bowlers like Muttiah Muralitharan, Nuwan Zoysa, and Upul Chandana and giving an opportunity to left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, fast bowler Dilhara Fernando and all-rounder Farveez Maharoof. If in the final count Herath and Maharoof make it to the team, they will be making their one-day international debuts for the country.

Twenty-six year-old Herath has already appeared in Test matches, but for the 19-year-old Maharoof, a schoolboy from Wesley College, it will be a big stepping stone in his career if he is picked in the final eleven. The hard-hitting right-hand bat and right-arm medium-fast bowler is being groomed to take the place of a fast-bowling all-rounder in the national side and this could be his big break.

As a schoolboy he has been outstanding and his progress to the present ranks has been something like a dream having captained the national team in the recently concluded under 19 World Cup in Bangladesh.

Dilhara Fernando is returning from a long lay off from injury. He last played in the third Test against England in December 2003.

Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu said that fast bowler Chaminda Vaas may have also been rested had it not been for him being on the verge of reaching the landmark of 300 wickets in one-day internationals.

"Vaas is three wickets short of reaching 300 wickets in one-day cricket which is a big landmark for any cricketer. We should help him achieve it," said Atapattu.

The 30-year-old Vaas will go into the match with 297 wickets from 234 one-day internationals and the conditions here are ideal for him to go past the 300-wicket mark and become sixth in the all-time list to achieve that milestone.

Presently Vaas stands joint sixth with South African fast bowler Shaun Pollock who also has 297 wickets. The list is headed by Pakistanis Wasim Akram (502 wickets) and Waqar Younis (416) followed by Sri Lanka's Muralitharan (355) and Indians Javagal Srinath (315) and Anil Kumble (315).

Atapattu said that although his top order batsmen had not got a long knock in the middle does not mean that he is going to bat first if the conditions suit the bowlers. In the first two one-dayers which Sri Lanka won by 12 runs and by nine wickets, Sri Lanka had put the opposition into bat on both occasions.

Atapattu also said that he was concerned that his team was not being stretched to the full by the present Zimbabwe squad and that they maybe found wanting if they come up against a stronger opposition.

"It is not good for the game of cricket after all when you know that there is a team that is much better than the one Zimbabwe are fielding at present but because of the circumstances they are unable to play," said Atapattu.

Three changes for Test squad

Sri Lanka chairman of selectors Lalith Kaluperuma who is on tour with the team said that batsmen Tilan Samaraweera and Ian Daniel and wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene have been called up for the two-Test series against Zimbabwe starting here on May 6.

Kaluperuma said that however a final decision had not been taken on the one-day players who will return home. The three Test players are due to join the team here by Monday.

The presence of Jayawardene in the Test squad is likely to bring about a change in the wicket-keeper. Kaluperuma said that the selectors had spoken to regular wicket-keeper Kumar Sangakkara and have offered him the option of playing as a batsman at no. 3 or to drop down the order and keep wickets.

"We feel that Sangakkara is too good a player to be sacrificed at no. 3 if he is going to keep wickets," said Kaluperuma. "Sangakkara is keen to keep wickets but then we must also look at the position he is batting which is ideal for his temperament and the strokes he has," he said.

Sangakkara and reserve one-day wicket-keeper Tillakaratne Dilshan in the mean time got some useful wicket-keeping tips from former Australian wicket-keeping 'great' Ian Healy who is here as a TV commentator for the series. Healy who holds the world record for the highest number of dismissals in Test cricket - 395, spent some hours with the two players at the Harare SC grounds while the rest of the team practiced.

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