HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka (AP):
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene isn't worried about the fact that the host nation has never won cricket's World Twenty20 tournament, saying his team has every chance of pulling off the feat.
"There's always first time, isn't it," Jaywardene told reporters as Sri Lanka prepared to take on Zimbabwe in the opening match in Hambantota today. "No one has done it, so maybe it's our time to turn it around and make it first."
South Africa is the other team in Sri Lanka's Group C, with top two advancing to the Super Eight. Because of the seedings of the tournament, Sri Lanka are assured of avoiding their two key Asian rivals - India and Pakistan - until the semi-finals.
India won the inaugural tournament in 2007 in South Africa, followed by Pakistan winning in England in 2009. England are the defending champions after defeating Australia in the final in the Caribbean in 2010.
"We're one of the favourites, we are part of the pack," Jayawardene insisted. "You know if we get into a good momentum we could go all the way. ... Sri Lanka is a cricket crazy country and the expectations would be high ... we have to accept that."
Jayawardene is the top-scorer for Sri Lanka in the shortest form of the game with 981 runs in 37 matches. He has also scored one of the two Twenty20 centuries for Sri Lanka and incidentally it came against Zimbabwe during a group match in the 2010 World Cup.
With the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, who both have also scored over 900 runs in Twenty20s, Sri Lanka form a formidable batting line-up to challenge any opposition in their own backyard.
Ajantha Mendis is back from back injury to strengthen Sri Lanka's spin department and with Thisara Perera establishing himself as an allrounder, the home team looks a balanced side.
"We keep producing these talented cricketers, (it's a) good (selection) headache for us," Jayawardene said.
The 20-over format of the game gives weaker oppositions - like Zimbabwe - a chance to surprise any big team on the given day and Jayawardene said his players can't take anything for granted.
"They (Zimbabwe) can be competitive and attacking," he said. "We cannot be complacent and we need to make sure that we must stick to our game plan and try to execute it."
Sri Lanka also began their 50-over World Cup campaign from this southern port city last year and went on to reach the final before losing to India.
"A lot of people have asked us, you know we've choked in the finals. I'd rather be in that situation than knocked out in the first round or the second round," Jayawardene said. "That means we are doing something pretty good in these big tournaments, we are handling pressure pretty well and getting to those situations where we can win tournaments."
Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor acknowledged his team is the weakest among the three in the group, but expects his players to put up a fight.
"We've always been in tough groups," Taylor said. "It's just great to be a part of the World Cup. We've got a lot to show tomorrow and we're looking forward to it. ... There's always pressure, especially playing a good team like Sri Lanka in their home ground. In T20 it can go either way. You can't slack one bit."
Group A comprises two previous winners India and England, along with Afghanistan. Australia, West Indies and Ireland form Group B, while Pakistan are placed with New Zealand and Bangladesh in the 12-team competition.
While Sri Lanka is expected to be bracketed with England, West Indies and New Zealand in the Super Eight, the other pool is already being labelled as the "Group of Death" where archrivals India, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia might vie for two semi-final places.