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Dilshan will be the man to watch in the Champions Trophy

Tillakaratne Dilshan may not be a batting superstar in Sri Lanka’s team like Sanath Jayasuriya or Kumar Sangakkara, but is one of most valuable players in all forms of the game.

Sri Lanka’s search for an explosive opening partner for Jayasuriya ended with the successful run of Dilshan, a middle-order batsman performing the new role remarkably well in Test, one-day and Twenty20 cricket this year.

Dilshan will be the man to watch out for in the Champions Trophy in South Africa next week as he is familiar with the conditions after excelling as an opener in the Indian Premier League just a few months ago.

The Sri Lankan is a free-stroking batsman who has been credited with perfecting a rare shot which goes over the wicket-keeper’s head and makes field-setting a difficult proposition.

Dilshan carried his IPL form into the Twenty20 World Cup in England this year, playing a vital role in his team’s run to the final.

Doubts that he may not be as successful with his attacking flair in Tests were buried as Dilshan gave a good account of himself at home against New Zealand, scoring 92 and 123 in the opening Test at Galle.

He has been nominated for the International Cricket Council award for the Twenty20 International Performance of the Year.

Dilshan will vie for attention with other exciting stroke-makers, Graeme Smith of South Africa, India’s Yuvraj Singh, Australian Michael Clarke and Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi.

Smith is one of most respected and feared openers in contemporary cricket, having the skill to adapt to all conditions and the shots to tame any attack with his attractive stroke-making.

The left-hander’s form will be crucial as South Africa have talented middle-order batsmen in Jacques Kallis, Jean-Paul Duminy, AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher to capitalise on a solid start.

Smith, with 5,251 runs in one-dayers, is also expected to excel as captain as South Africa make an attempt to win a major title at home after failing in the 2003 World Cup and then 2007 Twenty20 World Championships.

He has already led his team to away and home one-day series victories over four-time World Cup champions Australia in a year.

Yuvraj’s fame as a power-hitter got a tremendous boost in South Africa in 2007 when he smashed England paceman Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over.

Yuvraj has played a vital role in India’s amazing run of five successive one-day series wins against England, New Zealand, the West Indies and twice against Sri Lanka.

He has also earned a reputation of breaking patnerships with his tidy left-arm spin. His agile fielding makes him one of the best all-rounders in one-day cricket.

Clarke is not a traditional big-hitter, but is second to none when it comes to building an innings under pressure.

He made his one-day debut in 2003, but donned the mantle of a senior player a few years later following retirements of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist.

He was his team’s man in form in the Ashes, scoring 448 runs in five matches.

Australia expect Clarke to deliver yet again because he is among a few experienced players in the side trying to defend the title. His and skipper Ricky Ponting’s form will be the key to Australia’s fortunes.

Afridi lacks Clarke’s consistency, but can make a huge impact on a match in a short time with his big-hitting. He still has the fastest one-day century to his credit off 37 balls against Sri Lanka in Nairobi in 1996.

He is unpredictable but when he fires, his team can be assured of gaining a big advantage.

Afridi, who also bowls fastish leg-breaks and is a brilliant fielder, was an outstanding performer in the Twenty20 World Cup in England this year as he hammered a half-century to help his side win the final. NEW DELHI, Sept 18, 2009 AFP

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