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Lanka, NZ clash for a berth in WC final

Sri Lanka and New Zealand are complete sides and potential champions and are likely to give us a thrilling semifinal.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2007 16:14 IST

One team has swashbuckling Jayasuriya at the top, the other has one of the coolest in business Stephen Fleming. Then the spinning fingers of Vettori are always there to match the guile of Murali, and the composure and accuracy of Vaas can help him keep pace with the very best, including Shane Bond.

A veritable treat is in the offing as Sri Lanka take on New Zealand at Kingston Jamaica on the 24th. If two team are perfectly balanced ever in a World Cup semis, then these are the two to look out for. With curator offering true bounce for the whole of 100 overs, it is going to be a perfect test of character for both the sides.

Incidentally, the World Cup record of the two teams is deadlocked at 3-all, with the last two meetings going Sri Lanka's way, including one in the super-eight stage. In Neutral territories, New Zealand hold a small, but insignificant edge, of 12-10.

Three champions bowlers Vaas, Murali and Bond, and a slinger in Malinga missing out during their teams clash with Australia, will be ready to explode. That sure is going to add thrill to the proceedings. It will also ensure that no team runs away with the match on batting alone.

Tharanga must fire
Like with New Zealand, the only cause of concern is the opening pair. Sri Lanka's only two opening partnerships of note have come against small Bs- Bangladesh (98) and Bermuda (68). That is the area they will need to work on especially with Bond back in business. It is time Tharanga, the 22-year-old bat who has shown so much promise, repay the trust selectors have reposed in him.

The Southpaw will have to rise above his token contribution against big guns to make any real impact. His scores of 12 against South Africa, 11 against New Zealand and 6 against Australia - the other semifinalists - should be a real worry.

Solid Middle Order
However, the Lankan middle order looks stronger second only to Australia, with three of their batsmen - Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and Chamara Silva averaging above 50. The very fact that a batsman like Atapattu has not got a look in with tournament into its business end, shows the depth of the middle order.

Skipper Jayawardene, in fact, looks to be in the form of his life having aggregated 414 from nine innings so far. But more important than that has been his contribution in terms of partnerships. He has been involved in all the top three partnership for Sri Lanka in this World Cup. That includes 183 for the 3rd wicket with Jayasuriya against the West Indies and a tremendous 140-run partnership with Silva against Australia for the fourth wicket.

Bond remains Bond
What else can you say about a bowler who has taken 12 wickets from just 60 overs and has turned out to be the most economical bowler of the World Cup. An economy rate of 2.6 of Bond and his ability to penetrate the defenses of the best of batsmen should ensure that Sri Lanka will not have the explosive start they are otherwise accustomed to. Then there are Jacob Oram and Daniel Vettori to put bakes on their progress.

In a match of such vital significance, it is improbable that the Lankan batting will take too many chances against these bowlers. Probably grafting will be the key to a reasonably good score around 250, and not in excess of 300.

New Zealand Nightmares
Ditto for the New Zealand. Scoring will be tough against the like of Vaas and Muralitharan. After all, these two with three wickets apiece had restricted them to just 219 at Grenada only two weeks ago.

And then the massive defeat against the Australians, the worst ever inflicted on a test-playing nation in a World Cup, is also likely to interfere with an aggressive start if the New Zealander are batting first. Rediscovering confidence might take quite a few overs in the beginning.

Incidentally, Muralitharan, Malinga and Vaas have taken 46 wickets out of 71 dismissals effected by Sri Lanka so far. That does explain Sri Lanka's humiliating defeat against Australia with all three missing in action. And their presence will be a perfect explanation if New Zealander start crumbling from the very beginning.

Incidentally, unlike their battles against Australia, not much war of words is coming out from either camp.

Probably both the teams know that is never going to help. After all, on view will be the two sets of hard-core professionals who know action speak louder than words.

First Published: Apr 24, 2007 15:43 IST