On Tuesday, both Sri Lanka and New Zealand will be thanking themselves for having made “The Other” semifinal. Frankly, apart from people in Lanka and New Zealand, no one’s really concentrating on the first semifinal, which is probably to their advantage.
What isn’t to their advantage is that they played in very humid conditions in Mirpur, in a high-pressure match against South Africa, pulled off an upset and have then had to travel a fair distance to Colombo, to more humid but very different conditions, against a team that is sublime on its own turf. And they have only two days in between from the time they land to a World Cup semfinal.
Unlike, I might add, India or Pakistan, who’ve had a much longer break. In Sri Lanka’s case, while I don’t think two days is enough either, at least they're playing at home, and with Dilshan and Tharanga doing the job against a shell-shocked England, the nine other members of the playing XI played only half a game.
Kiwis up against it
Unfortunately for the Kiwis, who played some very solid cricket to upstage South Africa, I think the odds are stacked against them in Colombo, given the hosts terrific home record. The Kiwis will have to play even better than they did against South Africa and it will still be tough. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will be looking to Muralitharan to play a big role, which he’s always done against New Zealand.
Though the Kiwis have a stellar record in making it to the semifinals of big events, they haven’t really won anything major apart from when they beat India in the Champions Trophy final in Nairobi 10 years ago, but somehow, I don’t see a repeat in the offing.
Their beating the Proteas though was a combination of very smart and focused playing by them and South Africa drowning in the baggage of their own history.
Failures mean little
But all credit to the Kiwis for sniffing blood and going for the kill. Unlike the Proteas, they are not dependent on any one player, haven’t really been since Richard Hadlee, and their campaign has been strikingly similar to India’s in 2003.
The Kiwis lost badly to Bangladesh and India when they were in the subcontinent, India, you might remember, lost to New Zealand and even to Natal B in the lead up. New Zealand even have the same coach, in John Wright.
Knowing John, he would have worn his heart on his sleeve and worked to ensure they fight till the last ball. Against Lanka, we hope they’ll do that. HAWKEYE