Jayawardene feels Zimbabwe tour will give exposure to youngsters

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Harare, Nov 10 (UNI) For the Sri Lankans, Zimbabwe may not be a kind of opposition for whom they would require to improve their rankings, but the tour which starts November 20, comprising five ODIs and two practice matches, will definitely give the young Lankans an opportunity to prove their mettle in the international arena.

In the ICC ODI rankings, Zimbabwe are ranked No 11, below Associates Ireland, but Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene, who left with the team for Zimbabwe on Saturday, is not taking either the competition or the Zimbabweans lightly.

''They may have their internal problems where they lost a good majority of top-class cricketers, but they have got some raw talent who have shown they are good enough to compete in one-day and Twenty20 cricket.

''Our focus will be to play the cricket we want to play and make use of the tour to give the younger guys the necessary exposure at international level. We don't have much international cricket in the next six months or so and we need to take whatever opportunities that come our way,'' Jayawardene said.

After the Zimbabwe tour, Sri Lanka would focus on their Bangladesh tour, which starts this. They will play two Tests and three ODIs, after which they have no confirmed engagements till the World Twenty20 in England next June.

''Unlike some countries we don't have a particular season for international cricket. These countries secure the summer period to play their sports and travel abroad during the winter,'' the Lankan skipper asserted.

''This is where we need to be a bit smarter and try and reciprocate with other boards to ensure we have a regular flow of international cricket at home and abroad. Unfortunately it is not the case,'' he said.

Both the countries are facing each other in a bilateral contest after four years. The last time they met was in Zimbabwe in 2004, when Sri Lanka whitewashed the hosts 2-0 in Tests and 5-0 in ODIs.

Zimbabwe haven't improved much since then and Sri Lanka will be disappointed if they don't repeat that scoreline.

This tour would however miss the experienced hands of Sanath Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas as they were put to rest, giving an opportunity to players like Upul Tharanga, Thilina Kandamby, Mahela Udawatte and Angelo Matthews to establish themselves. The focus will be on Tharanga, whose poor form resulted in him being dropped from the team.

''Upul has shown a lot of character to fight his way back with performances with the A team and in domestic cricket. It's good that he has been thrown into reality at a relatively younger age. He has responded very well. He should mature into a good cricketer,'' Jayawardene said.

On the all-rounder Mathews, who is the new kid on the block, he said, ''He (Mathews) has got something special. It would help him immensely to be part of the squad and travel with it so that the transition to the senior team would be smooth.'' Hailing the competition, the right-handed batsman said, ''It kept the players on their toes.'' He said Tillakaratne Dilshan, who was the deputy to Jayawardene in last month's T20 Canada, finds himself as a standby for Zimbabwe after a poor run. He managed only one half-century in his last nine ODI innings.

All five ODIs will be played at Harare Sports Club, while warm-up matches - a four-day game and a limited-overs match - will be held at Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo.

With the first one-dayer starting on November 20, the remaining games will be played on November 22, 24, 28 and 30.

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