WC semis': Keen battle on cards as Lions face Kiwis

Published: Monday, April 23, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Kingston (Jamaica):Odds are even as former champion Sri Lanka and four-time semi-finalist New Zealand take on each other for a place in the final of the Cricket World Cup at Sabina Park here on Tuesday.

Both the teams on their way to the semis suffered crushing defeats at the hands of defending champion Australia.

Meanwhile, the two sides will be meeting for the second time in the tournament with the Lions having won their Super Eights encounter against the Kiwis with a measure of comfort in Grenada three weeks ago.

If that game is any indicator, Mahela Jayawardene's side must start as the favourites here on Tuesday as well. On last occasion, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan combined together to restrict the Fleming's side to a meager 219, which the Lankans knocked off with almost five overs to spare.

To add it, New Zealand travel here on the back of a 215 run record defeat at the hands of Australia in their last game in Grenada three days ago.

However, the Kiwis are known to be very resilient side, but for any team to come back from such a terrible mauling is never easy, and the Sri Lankans definitely will not give them too much elbow room either.

On the otherhand, Jayawardene has experience men like Sanath Jayasuriya, Vaas and Murali to draw upon, not to mention Tom Moody and Marvan Atapattu back in the dressing room. These are cricketers not known to miss a trick, and Stephen Fleming knows he will have his hands full in just coping with the multifaceted attack available to his counterpart.

Meanwhile, Stephen Fleming has been very candid to admit that Lanka is a very strong side. ''Sri Lanka have a lot of variety and play unorthodox cricket. They are hard to gauge,'' he said.

That 'gauging' is what Fleming will need to do to make a fist of it. In his favour are a couple of factors - Shane Bond with the juice in the Sabina Park pitch, and Scott Styris, the second highest run-maker in the tournament.

If all these work together, we are definitely in for a thrilling encounter on Tuesday. Bond was however, 'rested' against Australia, and New Zealand received the worst mauling which they will not forget in a hurry.

But how much he has recovered from the stomach bug that laid him low remains to be seen, as also Jacob Oram's heel injury.

Against Sri Lanka, the Kiwis will not have to face the relentless pressure which the Aussies mount. Instead, there will be more subtle tricks to tackle, besides Murali's twisters.

In a sense, it lines up as the classic East versus West battle, as the Kiwis play their cricket straight and the Lankans are an altogether foxier lot.

Man for man, in purely cricket terms these are well-matched sides as for a Bond, the Lankans have Malinga - if fit. For a Daniel Vettoti, Jayawardene has Murali. For the likes of Styris, Craig McMillan and Brendon McCullum, the Lions can put forward Chamara Silva, Tillekaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, utility men of great value and experience.

Sabina Park has traditionally been a happy ground for the fast men, and though the square has been relaid, evidence from the group stage matches played here suggests that there is plenty of life in the pitch and the captain winning the toss will be sorely tempted to give his bowlers the first go.

However, ultimately the toss might turn out to be the deciding factor of the match as the team who will first use a lively morning pitch will definitely have an edge over the other. But eventually the side which has the capacity to hold to their nerves well will go through to the Kensington Oval for the title clash on April 28.

Interestingly, it has been raining over much of Jamaica for past two days and a lot of that activity has centered around the Kingston area where there were very heavy showers on Saturday.


New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (capt), James Franklin, Peter Fulton, Scott Styris, Mark Gillespie, Brendon McCullum (wk), Craig McMillan, Harmish Marshall, Chris Martin, Michael Mason, Jacob Oram, Shane Bond, Jeetan Patel, Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori.

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Marvan Atapattu, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Russel Arnold, Chamara Silva, Chaminda Vaas, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Kulasekara, Muttiah Muralitharan and Malinga Bandara.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (RSA) and Simon Taufel (Aus) Third umpire : Daryl Harper (Aus).

Match referee: Mike Procter.


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