The semifinals are finally taking shape and it looks as though there might be a play-off for the third and fourth spots between England, South Africa and New Zealand. The nerves are beginning to jangle, and even the best thinkers are having ‘senior moments’.
Witness the decision on the part of Stephen Fleming — widely acknowledged as the game’s most intelligent captain today — to leave out Jeetan Patel against Sri Lanka. The wicket could only have got slower and lower, so Mark Gillespie became a spare part, given that Dan Vettori was the spearhead.
New Zealand had a good run before their game on Thursday, but had played little hard cricket. And Fleming’s ‘senior moment’ continued when he opted to bat first, given the presence of four spinners in his side. New Zealand will certainly hope that the Sri Lanka game will be their only hurdle and they don’t have to get into the net run rate squabble.
Scott Styris has been the Kiwis’ shining light, and has had the singular misfortune to score two hundreds against Sri Lanka, both in losing causes. A lot of people have been predicting a New Zealand-Australia final. But, on current evidence, Fleming’s men have much to do. Their top order is still a worry, and the loss of Lou Vincent has been big, bigger than we initially thought.
On the other hand, Sri Lanka hardly missed Lasith Malinga, though how they fare on the quicker wicket of Barbados, should they make it to the final, remains a question mark. As they are now, they look like an outstanding unit. The senior players are mature and team-oriented, and one senses a steely resolve to go all the way.
Chamara and Dilshan are natural strikers of the ball. Will they change their approach in a high-pressure situation? Probably not, and that could be their undoing.
Of the bowlers, Chaminda Vaas is significant, particularly with the new ball. He allows the younger quicks to settle in, and has, more often than not, knocked the stuffing out of the opposition by the time Murali arrives.
Dilhara, too, has seemed promising, particularly with his yorker and change of pace. However, he is still plagued by the no-balls, and pressure seems to affect him. He and Maharoof will be prime targets for batsmen, and that will be a big challenge for Tom Moody, who plays a major strategising role.