Cricket: Vaas adds verve to Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka, the world champions, start as favourites in the sixth edition of the Asia Cup when they take on Pakistan in the first match at R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo today.

The left-hander Hashan Tillekeratne will be the only player missing from the strong batting line-up which won the Sharjah Cup for Sri Lanka in April and the Independence Cup in India a month later.

Tillekeratne broke his right arm in the West Indies last month and was forced to return home early. His place is taken by the batsman Lanka de Silva.

The return of left-arm fast bowler, Chaminda Vaas, after recovering from a back injury will strengthen Sri Lanka's bowling considerably.

However, the coach, Bruce Yardley, will be absent as he has had to leave for Australia for treatment for a recurring eye problem. The manager, Duleep Mendis, will take over as coach until Yardley returns before the start of the short Test series against India next month.

The Pakistan captain, Rameez Raja, will again lead a side lacking five key players - Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, Ijaz Ahmed and Mohammad Akram, who are playing for English counties. Even without them, Pakistan - beaten finalists in the Independence Cup - remain capable opponents.

Aamir Sohail returns after his dispute with the Pakistan Cricket Board to forge a formidable opening partnership with Saeed Anwar, who made a memorable 194 against India at Madras in May.

India, the defending champions and four-times winners of the Asia Cup, and Bangladesh are the other participants.