Bloemfontein: New Zealand batting star Nathan Astle wants to overshadow the equally dashing Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya in the battle of the big hitters when they clash on Monday. "It will be exciting and although Jayasuriya has done more than me, I hope to better him this time and help my team win," Astle told. "If he hits, so will I. I will do my best to live up to expectations."
Astle and Jayasuriya play a remarkably similar game, although the Kiwi is right- handed and the Sri Lankan a southpaw. While Astle has Test cricket's fastest double-century against his name, Jayasuriya holds the record for the quickest half-century in the shorter version of the game. Astle's moment of glory came in Christchurch in March last year when he took just 153 balls to record his landmark innings as he went on to make 222 against England in his team's victory chase of 550.
The Kiwis eventually lost the Test by 98 runs but Astle won hearts with his hard and clean hitting. His second hundred came off just 39 deliveries and the entire knock contained 11 sixes and 28 fours. Jayasuriya too is no slouch in the big-hitting stakes. He hit three sixes and 13 fours in a 44-ball 82 that led Sri Lanka to its World Cup quarter-final win over England in Faisalabad in 1996. Just after the tournament, he clobbered a 37-ball century against Pakistan in Singapore.
"We both have a job to do at the top and that is to give our sides a flying start and take the initiative," said Astle, one of the six survivors from the previous World Cup where New Zealand reached the semi-finals. Astle acknowledged the threat posed by both Jayasuriya and off spinner Muthiah Muralitharan in the Goodyear Park showdown. "What Jayasuriya is to batting, Murali is to bowling and we must control both of them," said Astle.
The 31-year-old could be the batsman to watch in the World Cup as much for his ability to pace the innings as for his deceptive slow bowling. Astle, a middle-order batsman in Tests, has been performing the role of an opener in One-dayers remarkably well as he is the top New Zealand run-getter with 5,327 with 12 centuries in 167 matches. His experience and calming influence is bound to stand New Zealand in good stead on the hard and bouncy tracks in South Africa especially as he is playing in his third World Cup. Pundits say that Astle is a thinking batsman who knows when and how to switch gears and his double-century against England at Christchurch is proof.
Astle is also an effective slow bowler who can be relied on for checking the run- rate with his shrewd change of pace. His lack of speed poses a major problem for stroke-players, for the ball hardly comes on to the bat. He is more than just a part-time bowler in the shorter version of the game, having already bagged 92 wickets in 167 matches. Add to these his fielding skills and one gets a highly useful all-rounder. He is outstanding in the inner ring with a safe pair of hands. And it is the presence of all-rounders, like Astle, that makes New Zealand tough customers in the World Cup.