Colombo, March 29: New Zealand may feel like they can conquer the world after their shock upset of South Africa in the quarterfinal of the World Cup 2011 last Friday. But now as the Kiwis move into their fourth consecutive semi-final of the mega event, it is a new day and a new battle and their opponents - Sri Lanka - will be on the prowl after comprehensively beating them by 112 runs in the group stage.
In the wider spectrum of comparison, these two teams are almost evenly matched, with Sri Lanka winning 33 of their encounters while New Zealand have 35 victories under their belt. But since the last World Cup, Sri Lanka have emerged victorious in 3 out of 4 of their match-ups and judging by their most recent win, are well and truly on top of the Black Caps.
Even more ominous is the absolute and utter thrashing Sri Lanka consigned England to in their quarterfinal clash last Saturday. It's clear from that 10 wicket win with over 10 overs to spare that the Lankans have jelled together as a formidable unit this World Cup and are raring to beat down any side that comes in their way. Only Pakistan has got the better of them in the tournament.
New Zealand will therefore have to take a leaf out of Pakistan's book if they are to overpower these former World Champions when they meet in the latter's own backyard on Tuesday. Like the Pakistanis, the Kiwis have some razor sharp bowling to fall back on.
After his 4/39 helped wreck the Proteas' middle and latter order in the Black Caps' last game, seamer Jacob Oram has notched up a wicket-tally of 14 at a potent rate of 15.85 runs conceded per scalp. Meanwhile, his team-mate Tim Southee has the same number of wickets in the kitty at an average of 17.28. Add a recuperating-from-injury Kyle Mills (6 wickets from 3 matches at 12.33) to the mix and you have quite a lethal attack, just the type guaranteed to stop the Lankan batting powerhouses in their tracks or at least keep them in check.
That will nevertheless be a tall order as the Sinhalese batting has gone from strength to strength in the tournament. Openers Upul Tharanga (avg 72.60) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (avg: 65.33) are in devastating form as especially manifested in their quarterfinal against England, where they each notched up unbeaten tons to pull off an unbroken, match-winning stand of 231.
But the devastation doesn't end their. Captain Kumar Sangakkara has been leading from the front with a mind-blowing 84.00 per match. Who needs a middle and latter order after that? But Jayawardene whose form has been wishy-washy has shown that he is capable of throwing in the stabilising innings as well, when required.
In comparison, the Kiwis' batting doesn't look threatening as a unit. Ross Taylor stands out with an average of 57.20, but apart from him and Jesse Ryder who has notched up 41.25, there isn't very much to write home about. The openers Martin Guptill (avg: 31.85) and Brendon McCullum (avg: 34.71) appear to be doing a fair job, but have fared poorly against the tournament's top teams.
Meanwhile, Lanka's bowling has been good in patches with the old warhorse Muttiah Muralitharan re-emerging as the spearhead with 13 wickets from 7 matches at an average of 16.23. But apart from a few glowing individual performances from say, Lasith Malinga and Dilshan, he hasn't been rendered much support.
So, when these two sides take the field on Tuesday, it will be another case of better batting up against better bowling and vice versa. All said and done, the team who performs better on the day will naturally move into the final...