Port Elizabeth: With the chinks in their armour exposed lately, Australians face a real challenge in their quest for the World Cup when they meet Sri Lanka in the semi-final on Tuesday.Ace off spinner Muthiah Muralitharan would undoubtedly pose a few problems to the Australians, who were given a scare by the 39-year-old Asif Karim who ripped through the middle order with figures of three for seven in their last Super Six match against Kenya.Muralitharan, who has often troubled the famed Australian batting line up, could not have asked for better conditions to stop the Aussie juggernaut in what promises to be a thrilling contest."It is a pitch that will suit us. Anything can happen on the day and we will be playing hard cricket just like we have done in the past" said a confident Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya.The confidence of the Lankan skipper stems from the fact that the low bounce of the St George's Park would suit the slow bowlers. And the islanders, besides the wily Muralitharan, will depend on veteran Aravinda de Silva and Jayasuriya himself to contain the run flow.After being rather unimpressive in the league stage of the mega event, Sri Lanka managed to sneak into the semi-finals after beating Zimbabwe in the last Super Six match but are now determined to put up a good show against the defending champions. The Aussies said they were not unduly worried about the Muralitharan threat, despite the embarrassment caused by the unheralded Asim Karim, and had a plan in place to counter the off spinner."I thought we played very well against Muralitharan in the last time we met, and I am hopeful that we will do the same again," Australian captain Ricky Ponting said. But Ponting, whose team has not lost a single match in the tournament yet, conceded that the pitch could favour the Sri Lankans. "It is pretty well known that Sri Lanka do not like the faster types of wickets but we have played in Port Elizabeth twice so we will know the conditions better than they do," Ponting said.
The Sri Lankans will seek solace from their recent record against the Australians as they are the only team to have defeated the defending champions this year. Australia has lost only two of its last 24-One-day Internationals and bothto Sri Lanka. But Jayasuriya knows that his batting line up, which has not performed up to expectations, has to click to turn the applecart of the Australians. Barring Marvan Atapattu and De Silva, none of the other Sri Lankan batsmen have shown the desired consistency."They are a very good side. They are clearly the in-form team. If we can muster up a total close to 250, it will be very interesting.
The conditions will suit us," Sri Lankan coach Dav Whatmore said. The islanders have to counter speedsters Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, both of whom have been in very good form right through the tournament and would no doubt be the main threat even on a slow track.But coach Wahtmore felt that his wards were now better prepared to handle the Aussie fast bowlers in the semi-final.
"We had our goals. Our first goal was to reach the Super Six. Our second goal was to make the semi-finals. Now that we have done that, the boys are all determined to put is acrossthe Aussies", Whatmore said. Australia's key middle order batsman, Michael Bevan, who missed the Kenya game due to an injury, is expected to be fitfor the crunch game.
The teams (from): Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Michael Bevan, Andy Bichel, Ian Harvey, Matthew Hayden, BradHogg, Brett Lee, Darren Lehmann, Jimmy Maher, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Nathan Bracken and Nathan Hauritz.
Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Marvan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Aravinda de Silva, Russel Arnold, Jehan Mubarak, Avishka Gunawardena, Hashan Tillekeratne, Muthiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Pulasthi Gunaratne, Prabath Nissanka and Charitha Buddhika.
Umpires: David Shepherd (England) and Rudi Koertzen (South Africa)
TV umpire: Billy Bowden (New Zealand)
Match referee: Clive Lloyd (West Indies). PTI