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Can Lanka stop the champions’ charge?

cricket Updated: Mar 05, 2011 01:35 IST
Amol Karhadkar
Amol Karhadkar
Hindustan Times
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After being written off by fans and connoisseurs, they may have started their World Cup title defence with two convincing victories. But Australia will face their first tough test on Saturday.

Taking on Sri Lanka in their den is one of the biggest challenges for all the top teams. That's why it is imperative for Ricky Ponting and his men to shift gears at the R Premadasa stadium, after starting with the back-to-back mauling of Zimbabwe and New Zealand in the first week of action.

With the Cup being played in the sub-continent, much has been said about this becoming the tournament of the batsmen and spinners. Despite all the fuss created about the possible disadvantages for a fast bowler, the clash on Saturday - one of the three most important ties in Group A - may well be decided by four pace bowlers.

Ever since Shane Warne bid adieu to the international stage, Australia have conquered the world, including the 2007 World Cup, relying on their pace battery. And the trio of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson gave a glimpse of their repertoire in their first two group games. Australia's previous World Cup defeat dates back to the 1999 edition.

While Lee, whose comeback into the Aussie squad is as sensational as Shaoib Akhtar's recall by Pakistan, has made utmost use of his experience in the sub-continent conditions, Johnson and Tait have constantly asked questions of the batsmen with pace and accuracy. If the trio repeats their heroics against the likes of Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, they would have won half the battle.

The rest of the battle will have to be conquered by Ponting and his batsmen while facing sling king Lasith Malinga. Bowlers like Malinga and Tait, who rely heavily on their pace and ability to bowl toe-crushing yorkers, don't really hinge on assistance from the wicket. That makes them all the more dangerous across the globe.

Moreover, there were heavy showers on Friday evening and with the weather expected to play have a say in the match, the four pacers will be charged up to play spoilsport for the opposition.

No wonder then that Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara was looking to rotate his bowlers around Malinga at the start, including off-spinners Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, who is set to feature in the eleven as he has hardly played against Australia.

"You look up to your star bowlers and then the responsibility falls on other bowlers to do their bit. We'll try and focus how we share responsibility.”