How can the Australians be beaten?
Some steps might help Sri Lanka beat the formidable Australian challenge, writes Atul Sondhi.cricket Updated: Jan 15, 2013 12:08 IST
Hats off to Australia for such a tremendous show so far. Probably the whitewash in Chappell-Hadlee trophy, even though it came without Ponting and Gilchrist, made them much more determined to succeed. No doubt they are firmly en route to a hat trick of wins, but there is still one last hurdle. So what can Sri Lanka do to halt their juggernaut?
Bat first - despite South Africa's nightmare
While Arjuna Ranatunga's team might have beaten the mighty Australians of 1996 batting second, probably batting first can only beat this Australian side. Even in that final match at Lahore, at one stage the Australians were 137 for one before overconfidence did them in.
In five matches in 2007 edition that the Australians have batted first, they have always gone past 300 runs which makes them almost unbeatable. Worse, each time their strike-rate for the innings has hovered between 6.4 and 7.6 per over. Three of their victims include West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand - at least two of them are great teams by any standards.
Making the Champions bat second might put them under pressure if the batting team manages to make around 270-280. So far, none has been able to cross 250 batting first, England's 247 at Antigua being the highest.
Containment is the wrong policy
Bracken has played nine matches, McGrath and Tait ten each. And they are yet to wield the bat in the tournament!
This shows the depth of the Aussies, and the flawed approach of the opposition. Most of the attacks have tried to contain the Australians rather than attack them successfully, and have failed miserably in this endeavour.Sri Lanka will do well to attack them from the beginning. Something Imran Khan did so successfully in 1992 with Wasim and Mushtaq at his disposal, or Martin Crowe by opening with Deepak Patel.
Bring in Murali or Jayasuriya in the first few overs and take a gamble. Fast bowlers are anyway going to be hit so changing the pace of the game a little in the very beginning will be worth a try.
All the top order Australian batsmen, except Michael Hussey, have strike-rates hovering above 90. So even if they give their worst
performances in terms of strike rate but manage to play 50 overs, Australia will easily reach 270-280. That is something most teams will dread. So get them fast, or they will get to you.
No easy singles please
Restrict easy singles even if it means tempting them to go for big shots. Australians kill others teams with singles as much as with big shots. Hussey and Clarke are prime examples.
If the Australian scoring rate does not drop even after the fall of one or two quick wickets, it is because they continue to play for runs with singles.Sri Lanka must position quite a few of their fielders in catching and single-restricting positions, and not right at the edge of the 30-yard-circle. Challenging the Australians with ariel shots can be productive for the opposition. If you still lose, hard luck!
Hope for a bad day for Hayden and Australia
It has happened before, in 1983. It has also happened to the South African side of 1999. Just one bad day can spell the difference between glory and disaster. Sri Lanka is not a mean team. With the kind of variety at its disposal, it is perhaps best equipped to bring about that bad day.
But for that, they will have to tame that 'Mat The Bat'. Over six hundred runs in the tournament so far with three centuries and one half-century.Hayden is scoring more than run-a-ball and just imagine that the Australians wanted to give this man an ODI farewell less than a year ago!
Critical opening stands
Opening stands against Australia are always going to be absolutely critical. If after scoring 377 against South Africa at St Kitts on March 24, the Australians were still under pressure then it was only due to the brilliance of AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith when they had added 160 for the first wicket at about eight runs per over. Had the Australian score been not that big, probably South Africans would have run even closer.
If Sri Lanka flopped against Australia in the group match, it was also due to the failures of Jayasuriya at the top. He simply has to succeed for his team to increase its odds against Australia.
It is tough to return firepower with firepower with the likes of Bracken and McGrath in the Australian ranks, but that Challenge must be taken head on with intelligent shot selection. The way Pietersen did against Australia on way to a splendid century. Else, concede the Australians the status that Roger Federer has in tennis.