It now boils down to the last three matches, and whoever wins next Saturday, will take fond memories of the Caribbean. The semifinal lineup holds no surprises. Even though Australia came into the tournament riding a five-loss streak, everyone knew they would make it this far. New Zealand and South Africa, too, were expected to go far because they have been winning pretty consistently.
For me, Sri Lanka too were top contenders because they have the most varied attack in the tournament.
On Tuesday, both semifinalists seem pretty even, and I don’t think either team holds an edge. During the preliminary stage, the Pakistan-Ireland game was played on a slightly dodgy track, and I hope the strip that the teams will play on on Tuesday has no devils. Both sides have quality pacers as well as spinners, but for the sake of the crowd, I hope the game does not see totals under 175.
I am really impressed with the development of the Sri Lankan team.
There were always plenty of talented individuals in the side, but they look like a cohesive unit these days, and it’s good to see that even while senior pros Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan have been in great form, the next generation, comprising the likes of Chamara Silva, Lasith Malinga and Upul Tharanga have started making significant contributions.
The fielding is also top quality, and their body language is positive even when things are not going their way.
Even though they lost their first game against South Africa by a whisker, the Sri Lankans seem to have taken a lot away from that game, which has held them in good stead in the rest of the tournament.
It gave them the never-say-die spirit to confront a similar situation against England, and whenever they were in a precarious situation, someone or the other has stepped up to the the task.
The New Zealand are a quietly efficient side, but they have been winning too often to be considered the dark horses. They have a number of matchwinners, like Shane Bond, Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vet tori and Brendon McCullum to be considered underdogs.
The two teams met last Saturday, and even though New Zealand lost, they would be aware that the conditions in Jamaica would be vastly different. I do not think New Zealand will be attaching too much importance to that reversal.
For me, the key to the game will be the Shane Bond-Jayasuriya encounter as well as the performance of the New Zealand batsmen against Muralitharan. Fleming will have to be courageous if he wins the toss.
His team prefers to chase and he backs his boys to overhaul 300-plus totals. He might be concerned about batting second against Muralitharan, but I still think that he should back the batsmen and bat second if he calls right.