One-Day Mataram

Deconstructing the gentleman's game

Match Preview: Australia Vs. Sri Lanka (Semi-Final 1, Port Elizabeth)

After all the action on and off the field in the past month since the innaguration of the ICC World Cup 2003, it has finally come down to the last three matches... the only real knock-out phase of the tournament. It is all down to Australia, Sri Lanka, Kenya and India to slug it out in the next few days to decide who will be crowned the World Champions. And in the first of these three exciting matches, Australia take on Sri Lanka in the first semi-final at Port Elizabeth.

Let us first take a look at Australia. Undoubtedly the strongest team in the competition, Australia have lived upto its billing by winning all its matches in the tournament. It brushed aside all the competition that the tournament threw at them. But, are they invincible?
I say not! While Australia started the tournament very strongly beating Pakistan and India in its first two matches, it has since then slid a notch or two down as far as their performance goes. Its just that they were so high above any of the other teams that they have been able to knock off the challenges inspite of not playing at their best. A reason for this dip in performance is the fact that the Australians have progressively lost some of its key performers as the tournament has gone on. It lost Shane Warne even before the first match was played. Then it lost the services of Jason Gillespie. Two of its frontline wicket taking bowlers gone. And now, when it is about to play the semi-final clash, news is that solid middle-order bat, Damien Martyn will not play due to injury. And, while the Aussies have a bench-strength of a calibre better than the first-choice teams of many countries, it shall find it difficult to cope against a determined and top-class side. And in semi-finals, you do get determined sides.
There are very few problems on the batting front. Though Hayden has not clicked and Gilchrist has not been consistent, they are two openers who can come into their own on any given day and tear the opposition attack to shreds. Ponting is in reasonably good form too. Symonds, the hero of the first match against Pakistan hasn't quite lived upto the expectations generated by his brilliant performance in that match. Michael Bevan, the best one-day batsman that Australia posses, has been in and out of the team in this tournament itself, sometimes due to injuries and sometimes due to the rotation policies. The biggest surprise and find of the tournament for the Aussies has been the batting of Andy Bichel down the order. On more than one occasion, he has pulled his side out of trouble in the World Cup. So, batting is not the main worry. Though, it begs to be pointed out that Australian batting has almost crumbled against Pakistan, England, New Zealand and, believe it or not, Kenya.

The bowling is the main cause of worry for the Aussies. Strictly speaking, they have only two world class bowlers in their attack. Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. The rest of the bowling (sans Gillespie and Warne) looks less-than-threatening. While Bichel has been among wickets, I won't consider him a threat, if I am Dav Whatmore. He bowls straight and wicket to wicket with some swing... but nothing more than that. I compare him to Manoj Prabhakar. Bradd Hogg, even though a prodigious turner, cannot be termed to be in the same league as his contemporary spinners. Symonds is't much better. And Darren Lehman is perhaps the most over-rated cricketer in the current Australian side. So, Sri Lankan strategy should be to play out the initial burst by Lee and McGrath and then cash in on the Aussie inexperience.

Patchy! ... that's the only word that comes to the mind when I think of Sri Lanka in this World Cup. There is none of the flair that was so apparent when the Lankans went on to win the World Cup in 1996. It has sneaked into the Super Sixes on its wins against the weaker sides and due to some unknowing help from other teams. Moreover, they have been at the receiving end of one of the biggest upsets in the World Cup... i.e. their loss to Kenya. In most of their matches, either their batting has looked frail (eg. against India, Kenya, Australia) while in other matches its their bowling which has looked ineffective. The only bright spot for Sri Lanka has been the form of their main bowler, Chaminda Vaas who has threatened the very best. But the absence of a good opening bowler to partner him has been the sad tale of the Lankan campaign. Though looking ahead to this semi-final, I would think that the best way to go at the Aussies would be to open the attack with Vaas and Gunaratne. They should also try out Murali within the first 15 overs because then he gets the chance to get wickets when the batsmen aer on the lookout for quick runs. After 15 overs are bowled, the batsmen try to knowck Murali around rather than get big runs from him. Also, Sri Lankans have so much bowling in their team that they really don't have to worry about one or two bowlers getting clobbered. It should be the Lankan spin against the Aussie aggression that should be the decisive factor in the match.
The Lankan batting looks quite unsettled. Jayasuriya is looking confused these days. He tries to play a game unnatural to him and in the process gets out having consumed too many balls. Jayawardena looks to emulate Inzamam by letting his talent go waste. In any case, Mahela should play in the match and should bat lower down the order, pushing DeSilva and Sangakkara one place higher up the order. Atapattu has looked assured as has Sangakkara. Apart from these two, none of the batsmen have scored consistently and hence do not inspire too much confidence. Unless Jayasuriya takes charge and uses the pace of Lee to get some quick runs up the order, the Lankan batting will always look under pressure. DeSilva too has to come out firing on all cylinders, for it could well be his last match for Sri Lanka.

The pitch at Port Elizabeth has been the subject of so much debate recently. The Aussies, in the playing team as well as the commentating team, have been the most vocal about the slowness of the pitch. This is pure crap!! If you cannot play on all kinds of conditions, you certainly don't deserve to be crowned World Champions. The Aussies are shifting nervously in their pants since the slow and low nature of the pitch would provide assistance to the Sri Lankans who are filled with spinners itching to utilise the favourable conditions. Even if they get a better pitch, the Aussies would find that it would be only marginally so and unless they bat first and post a huge score, it would be tough for them to get past the Lankans. So, the toss, once again, assumes a lot of significance. Whoever wins the toss will most certainly elect to bat first. So, if the weather does not intervene, we should have a cracker of a match. There is no clear favourite among the two teams and this is primarily due to the conditions. On pure cricketing form, Aussies will walk away with the match.

My prediction: Australia will await the winner, of the India-Kenya match, at Johannesburg on Sunday! :-)

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