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Lions set to go Kiwi hunting

india Updated: Oct 20, 2006 00:00 IST
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Sri Lanka should start appeasing Nike, the goddess of victory. They have to win against New Zealand in their Champions Trophy Group B clash here on Friday. Else they'll be out of the race for semifinal berths.

Goddess N's blue-eyed boys right now are the reputedly soft, physically hardy New Zealanders. The Champions Trophy 2000 winners defeated South Africa in their last match here thanks to grand efforts by captain Stephen Fleming and fast bowler Kyle Mills.

On the contrary, Sri Lanka, despite a rollicking win over the West Indies in the qualifying stage, suffered defeat against an inspirational Pakistan in Jaipur on Tuesday. Yet, the joint winners of the 2002 edition appear likely to win. One, they possess strong personalities in both bowling and batting who can carry a match.

The well-aged opener Sanath Jayasuriya, his young partner Upul Tharanga, captain Mahela Jayawardene and wicketkeeper batsman Kumar Sangakkara lend the batting weight. Where bowling is concerned, Sri Lanka have the in-form Farveez Maharoof, the great Muttiah Muralitharan, the experienced Chaminda Vaas and the whippy Lasith Malinga to show off.

Secondly, unlike New Zealand, Sri Lanka are better-equipped to handle Mumbai's almost tyrannical heat and humidity. Thursday's temperature in South Mumbai, where the Brabourne stadium is situated, was around 35 degrees Celsius while the relative humidity was around 73 per cent.

New Zealand are struggling in the health department as it is. At the time of writing, it was not decided whether pace squadron leader Shane Bond would play on Friday. The 31-year-old was to take a fitness test on Thursday evening. Bond, who has just about recovered from a chronic back problem, has been feeling stiff.

Coach John Bracewell and the New Zealand management are disinclined towards haste, particularly with the pitches in India not helping fast bowling. They will play the feared but gentlemanly Bond — an antithesis of Shoaib Akhtar - only when all risk has been eliminated.

All-rounder Scott Styris, also bothered by the back, was scheduled to take a test as well. Medium-pacer Mark Gillespie is down with fever. Nonetheless, Fleming was positive when speaking to the press before starting net practice. He said that in 2000, the Kiwis were "hoping" to win the tournament. This time, he said, they are "a contender." 

Jayawardene, also looked at the situation as a glass half full. "It's like two semi-finals for us now," he said, referring to the must-win nature of the team's next two games.  "We have been pushed to the wall and we have to win. It's a healthy situation to be in. If destiny is in our hand we should be able to steer it, rather than hoping for somebody else to do it for us."

Given the slow nature of the Brabourne wicket so far (it will, however, be firmed up with glue on Friday morning), the bowling assumes importance. Both teams will be happy to remember that their bowlers have done well at the venue, though the conditions are likely to change on Friday.

Maharoof took six when Sri Lanka defeated the West Indies. Mills, Jacob Oram and to an extent Jeetan Patel were shone with the ball in New Zealand's conquest of South Africa.

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