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Murali out of ODI - rushes to side of ailing son

CRICKET: Sri Lanka could be without two of their key bowlers for the third one-day international against England at Durham's Riverside ground on Saturday after Muttiah Muralitharan was forced to rush to India to be beside his ailing child who has to undergo an operation.

Sri Lanka's spin king left for Chennai on Thursday night from Durham via Colombo after hearing the news that his six-month old son who is in Chennai with his wife Madhi and in-laws had to be rushed to hospital for a stomach operation.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene said that Muralitharan would definitely be out of Saturday's match and he wasn't certain when the spinner would return.

The fourth and fifth one-dayers are scheduled for June 28 and July 1 at Manchester and Leeds respectively.

"It'll all depend on the condition of his child. We have to play it by ear," said Jayawardene.

Sri Lanka may also be without their other strike bowler Dilhara Fernando who has still to recover from a torn ligament in his ankle. Fernando had to pull out on the morning of the second one-day game at the Oval on Tuesday due to excessive pain in his ankle.

"It is an injury which Dilhara has been carrying for some time. It flared up on Tuesday. He received an injection and is under treatment. He had a day off yesterday," said Jayawardene.

With a question mark hanging over Fernando's fitness, Sri Lanka is reduced to just 12 players from a squad of 14 from which to pick their final 11.

"We don't have that many options to go with but we are not looking at it from a negative angle. We will go with what we have and come up with a combination that is best suited for the wicket," said Jayawardene.

Without Muralitharan and perhaps Fernando Sri Lanka will be hard pressed to preserve their 2-0 lead. They need only a win here to clinch the five-match series.

Jayawardene said that he was quite happy with the batting and bowling departments, but was disappointed the way they fielded at the Oval.

"Our ground fielding and catching was poor. We need to improve on it. The white ball against the spectator background made it difficult for the fielders to sight the ball early, but that's not an excuse," said Jayawardene.

So far the weather has been ideal for Sri Lanka, but up here in the North-East it is rather cold and the chances of rain is predictable which should suit England.

Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood and Liam Plunkett will relish playing on their home track, which has great facilities and a vocal supportive crowd.

Harmison who took an impressive 3 for 31 at the Oval has done well in front of his home crowd taking 15 wickets in Riverside Test appearances against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. He hoped the temperatures here would be ten degrees colder and Sri Lankans will need an extra jumper and hopefully their spinners will not be able to feel their fingers.

England wicket-keeper Geraint Jones said: "We're going to have to pull our fingers out to avoid losing the one-day series with Sri Lanka in the minimum of matches. It's definitely time to start looking forward rather than back to our Ashes success, even though it was nine short months ago."

"It's upto the older hands in the team to help the newcomers settle down and find their feet. We have to step up a level on Saturday. While we realise we have to improve, credit also has to be given to a very good Sri Lankan side capable of beating the best on their day," he said.

England's continued poor performance where they have lost their last four games against Sri Lanka in three different formats - Test, Twenty20 and fifty-over internationals is making the think-tanks of English cricket rather worried what the future holds for them.

England's chairman of selectors David Graveney has publicly expressed his concerns: "If we continue to play the way we have been doing this summer, we will not retain the Ashes and we will not win the World Cup."




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