CRICKET: Ranatunga's rallying call

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ARJUNA RANATUNGA yesterday warned England that Sri Lanka will be on top of their game by the time the two sides meet in the World Cup's opening game next Friday.

Ranatunga's men play their first warm-up match against Northamptonshire today looking to prove critics wrong and show their free-hitting batsmen can flourish on English wickets.

Despite their 1996 success, Sri Lanka are not among the favourites to succeed in England but their captain, Ranatunga, said: "We came here early to get used to the pitches. By the time we get to Lord's we'll be on peak form. We've got a few tricks up our sleeve. We don't really want to experiment but we have some players who may surprise. There are eight or nine teams who can win the tournament and I think we have an excellent chance."

The Sussex captain, Chris Adams, wants his team to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the experience of facing South Africa at Hove. Hansie Cronje's side are being tipped by many to win the World Cup and they face a Sussex team lacking vice-captain Tony Cottey and all-rounder Robin Martin-Jenkins through injury.

Adams said: "We'll be working very hard to play our cricket but it's important for the lads to savour the moment because opportunities to play South Africa on your home ground don't come along too often. We've got the ground looking great, there's bound to be an electric atmosphere and we'll be going flat out to give a good account of ourselves."

Jonty Rhodes, South Africa's dazzling fielder and attacking batsman, has been ruled out after straining tendons in his wrist - an injury which he sustained while rowing at South Africa's training camp in Cape Town last week. He should be back for the games on Sunday and Tuesday, against Kent at Canterbury and Middlesex at Uxbridge.

The South Africa coach, Bob Woolmer, linked with the England job when David Lloyd steps down after the World Cup, said: "It's marvellous that Sussex are putting out a full side. It's how cricket should be played. We are one unit, we are very strong and very committed to winning the World Cup."

The pace bowler Allan Donald, troubled by a stomach muscle injury in the winter which ruled him out of most of South Africa's international programme against New Zealand, is now fully fit. Off-spinning all-rounder Derek Crookes and seamer Alan Dawson will sit out the match while swing bowler Steve Elworthy has a calf strain.

Cottey, the middle-order batsman who joined Sussex from Glamorgan, misses the game with a back spasm.

The Zimbabwe captain, Alistair Campbell, feels his side are capable of proving they are among the best half-a-dozen line-ups in the world. They have beaten Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India in the last few months and Campbell, who leads his men against Worcestershire today, said: "There's a huge expectation back home because of our recent form. We've had a tremendous season to date and I hope we'll stay in winning ways over here. We're realistic - we have no ambitions to win - but for the first time we're here as participants. We want to win more than one game and are targeting a place in the Super Six."

Kenya hope to use today's game with Somerset as the first part of a crash course in how to win in England. The outsiders from Africa are at Taunton and then face Gloucestershire and Glamorgan before their first World Cup game against Zimbabwe on 15 May.

The Kenya captain, Asif Karim, admitted: "We don't know the best way to approach games here yet as we're not sure of the English conditions. Eight of the squad have never been to England before, so we need to learn quickly. We have some warm-up games to play and from them we hope to learn how to play in the conditions."