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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Preview: Newzealand vs Sri Lanka

newzealand vs sri lanka cricketThe Fleming-os takes on the Lankans at the National Cricket Stadium in Guyana tomorrow, and this match may be important in more ways than one. The semi-finalists for this World Cup have more or less been decided, so there shouldn't be too much excitement on that front. However, tomorrow's match may be important for a more important reason.

Newzealand is currently at the top of the Super Eight table, with 4 victories and a net run rate of +1.728. Australia are close behind, with equal number of points but a slightly lower run rate. Both these teams are yet unbeaten in this 9th World Cup, and close on their heels on the points tally is Sri Lanka. They have lost that one match to South Africa, by the narrowest of margins and are currently at 6 points and a NRR of +1.549, actually a wee bit better than Australia's.

From whatever we have seen so far in this World Cup, the Australians definitely look a class apart - the ghost of the VB series has well and truly been buried, and I don't know if it's possible, but they look better than they have ever before done in the World Cup. Australia hasn't lost a World Cup match since 1999, with 2003 being a clean run, but even then, they didn't look as convincing. This time round in the West Indies, besides being convincing, they give you that feeling of a juggernaut - unstoppable and crushing.

Well, if this Aussie juggernaut is to be halted, I think either of Fleming or Jayawardene will have to raise their hands. The Sri Lankans have that right variation in their bowling arsenal, and if Hayden and Ponting could be removed early, Lankans are in with a chance. On his day, Malinga can irritate the best of batsmen with his awkward line and pace. Vaas is always good, and so is Murali. If Lanka bats first and can get 260-280, it will all boil down to Hayden and Ponting. Remove them early, and the advantage is with you.
I fancy the Kiwis for a wholly different reason - because they are indeed a bunch of Fleming'os. Stephen Fleming is the best captain in the cricket world, almost without argument and he has built a team of world-beaters out of a collection of some otherwise very average cricketers. What Fleming has instilled in his men is a sense of fearlessness, which has stood them in good stead. Whether Australia set 280 or 320 as a target, if there is one team which has the best chance of reaching it, it is the Kiwis. Here's one team which doesn't get bogged down by the loss of an early wicket or two. (keep telling my friends that here's a team of 10 irfan pathans + 1 fleming, and since they don't have a tendulkar or a ponting, there is no fear of him getting out, so if 2 pathans go, they know that there are 8 more to follow. this is an exaggerated simplification, but not too far off the mark either). Plus, they have the astute Fleming - he is bold enough to delay the power-play till the 30th over if need be, yet not silly enough like Lara, to wait till the 44th. He's smart, and uses his resources in the most efficient manner. What he will need is a bit of luck, and a bit of Bond - to rattle Hayden and Ponting.

When Sri Lanka takes on Newzealand tomorrow, we may find out who is going to be the likely challenger to Australia. This may even be a rehearsal for a likely semi-final match between the two. Either ways, it's going to be an important affair - and more than anyone else, it's John Buchanan and the Aussies who would be following the match with the greatest interest.

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