Ponting expects Black Caps to be at their best

Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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St George's, Grenada:Australia captain Ricky Ponting expects to face a full-strength New Zealand side on Friday after his team cruised to a seven-wicket win against a Sri Lanka team missing two rested senior bowlers.

The two-time defending champions made light work of chasing down a target of 227 for victory against the highly regarded Sri Lankans here Monday, finishing on 232 for three with 44 balls to spare.

But it was against an attack stripped of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, as well as the injured Lasith Malinga, who between them have taken 41 wickets at the tournament so far.

Victory meant Super Eights table-toppers Australia had gone 26 games unbeaten at the World Cup and stretched their winning run at the tournament to 20 matches.

"It doesn't worry me one little bit," said Ponting of the decision to rest Vaas and Muralitharan, who Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene subsequently said had a groin problem.

"We'll take a win, any win, against Sri Lanka this close to the finals," added Ponting who made an unbeaten 66 and shared an unbroken stand of 106 with Andrew Symonds (63 not out).

"They obviously had some strategy to rest a couple of their best players. They play Ireland on Wednesday. If they play well, they aren't going to get a lot out of that game anyway so that's for them to worry about not us."

He said he was particularly baffled by Sri Lanka's decision to omit off-spin star Muralitharan, like Vaas a member of the 1996 World Cup-winning team.

"That's one thing, I don't understand. I would have thought it was a good opportunity for him to have a crack at our batsmen. It doesn't worry our batters because we know the way he goes about things. We play him as well as anybody around the world."

New Zealand, like Australia and Sri Lanka, have already booked their semi-final place ahead of the sides' final Super Eights match and are unlikely to face their trans-Tasman rivals again before a possible final match-up.

Asked if he'd expected New Zealand to omit some of their leading players, Ponting said: "I wouldn't have thought so, not in a game that close to the semi-finals.

"They'll want to beat us and we'll want to beat them. They've got a good record against us of late, having won the three games in New Zealand just before we came away.

"These sorts of conditions suit their gameplan. They've got guys who play spin bowling and slower bowling pretty well. They've got guys that take the pace off the ball and cut the ball a lot in their bowling options.

"We'd like to think we can improve in the New Zealand game, win it and go into the semis with a whole lot of momentum behind us."

Ponting was also encouraged by the progress of all-rounder Shane Watson, who has missed Australia's last three games with a calf injury.

"I spoke to the physio and he said Shane has actually been moving quite freely for a while now.

"He evens the balance of our side out very well. It will be a nice little problem to have when he becomes 100-percent fit again."


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