WC final stage: Aussies rule the roost, but...

Published: Monday, April 23, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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The stage is set for some fiery action as we reach the decisive phase of the World Cup; just three matches away from discovering the World Champion team.

The best of the lot, and quite expectedly, have made it to the semi-finals - Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa. I don't think many would debate the semifinal line up.

The best thing about the matches now is that it is not possible to predict the winner. It is a good indication of how things have progressed. We all know that Australia will continue to be the overwhelming favourite but none can be sure of how the matches will shape once the fight begins.

Take the New Zealand-Sri Lanka match. The teams are balanced as both know their limitations. The onus is on the seniors and much will depend on the role played by the two captains - Stephen Fleming and Mahela Jayawardene.

Fleming knows how to get runs in a big match. So do Sanath Jayasuriya and Jayawardene. The Sri Lankans have played consistently good cricket in this tournament and I expect the team to realise the importance of the occasion and give their best against an opponent who also understand the value of a collective assault.

I am looking forward to the two spinners - Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan. They have a distinct ability to change the course of the match and are likely to play a dominant role in their team's chances of progressing to the title clash.

The presence of Chaminda Vaas and Shane Bond can be an exciting prospect for the two captains. Vaas has served Sri Lankan cricket with admirable devotion and he must be keen to sign off in style.

Bond has been the spearhead of New Zealand's challenge and could make a mark with early dents.

Chamara Silva and Dilshan have been the pillars of Lankan batting for some time and this could be the occasion for them to click and make a difference. The Kiwis too have an outstanding performer in Scott Styris, who is known to come good when it matters most. The pitch at Sabina Park holds the key because it does help the bowlers in the initial stages and the team with an early advantage could dictate the course. New Zealand and Sri Lanka are great fielding sides and I am sure the spectators would get to see some quality entertainment when they meet in the first semi-final.

Meanwhile, what does one say of Australia? They have just grown in strength and stature and have looked the most compact side in the tournament, winning their matches with authority. The second semi-final has the potential to develop into an explosive clash, befitting the occasion.

Australia has done nothing wrong in this tournament. Under the astute Ricky Ponting, it has emerged as a team with amazing consistency. The form of Mathew Hayden has been demoralizing for the opponents and there is the threat of batsmen like Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds waiting to whip the South Aricans.

The Aussies have the most potent attack with Glenn McGrath and Shaun Tait forming a lethal pair. Tait may be expensive but he gives the team the right breakthroughs and any captain would welcome such a bowler. McGrath is a big match bowler and the variety that left-arm seamer Nathan Bracken and left-arm spinner Brad Hogg bring to the attack adds to Australia's overall strength.

Not that South Africa would be push overs. They have the capacity to stop Australia and much would depend on the start that Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers provide. It is very important that South Africa sets the tempo because Australia can be vulnerable to pressure when it is applied early. With Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs and Mark Boucher the South African middle order looks awesome.

However, the key to winning at this stage will be the team's mental strength. Since the pressure will be enormous, it would be interesting to see how the captains handle the challenge. There is, honestly, little to differentiate. Let us sit back and enjoy some great action over the next week.


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