Colombo: As Sri Lanka weigh up their spin bowling options for Tuesday’s semi-final showdown with New Zealand, there is a major question mark over Muttiah Muralitharan’s fitness.
Sri Lanka's captain Kumar Sangakkara admitted there were still some concerns over the off-spinner’s fitness.
"We do though have cover should he not be fit enough to play," he said. "Everyone is trying to get him fit for the game. If he can play, it will be great. If doesn't play we do have cover. He knocked his knee and has developed a side strain."
No doubt, the cover will be to give Tillakaratne Dilshan more overs and also utilise Chamara Silva or Thilan Samaraweera. There is the other option of bringing Chamara Kapugedara into the side to bowl leg-spin. This is a seriously risky option as he has not played since the game at Hambantota and has carried drinks ever since.
What is more amazing on the eve of the game, and if the shouting within some local media and among the public, there is no need to hold a final. India should concede the World Cup now to Sri Lanka. Such is the puffed-up flatulence so typical of over-bloated egos you get after easy victories such as that of Saturday night. A choking England were a marshmallow lightweight and their gameplan just a frothy – or if you wish, trivial.
Also forgotten amid the euphoria is how Sri Lanka lost to Pakistan in a Group A game at the Khettarama venue, and how there are still two semi-finals to decide who does turn up at Wankhede on April 2.
So far, all the pre-tournament expert theories of who would have their name etched on the World Cup have been blown apart in a series of results leaving the event with a strong Asian flavour. Whether India can break the mould and become the first host nation to win the World Cup in their own country is another matter. There is, as with tomorrow night at Khettarama, a semi-final still to be played in Mohali.
The jingoism in the streets and hotel bars is why do Sri Lanka need to play a semi-final against a side such as New Zealand? The Kiwis have been so out of their depth against teams from the subcontinent the past 12 months it is surely a waste of time for Daniel Vettori’s side to turn up and experience similar treatment to what was dished out to England on Saturday.
After Saturday’s result, there have been a number of sneering remarks of why the Kiwis should concede the semi-final and fly home. Such blind overconfidence is the sort of poison you hear espoused by politicians making promises to an electorate they knowingly cannot keep.
Yet, as with 2003, the semi-finals take on a major significance of who was likely to shape up for the final at The Wanderers. The problem, when it was played, India made too many errors of judgement. It was almost a repeat of the 1999 final at Lord’s, a totally forgettable event: Australia winning all too easily on both occasions.
England were handed such a comprehensive 10 wickets hiding on the back of two centuries in a juggernaut first-wicket partnership of 231 by Dilshan and Upul Tharanga. Now they are expected to pull similar performance again against a different bowling attack and one that is possibly far better balanced than England, dogged with injuries, fielded on Saturday.
Both batsmen were all but crippled by cramp, as records were set in a display of controlled batting by two batsmen who have learnt to compliment one another’s styles with Dilshan having a runner such was his lack of mobility in running between wickets.
When a list of possible World Cup winners for 2011 was drawn up back in early February, Australia, England and South Africa featured heavily along with India and Sri Lanka. There was no Pakistan and most decidedly no New Zealand. It was suggested the Kiwis along with the West Indies would be fortunate to make the quarterfinals. Well, Shahid Afridi and Vettori have found themselves in the semi-final draw; they also know how that extra step is not going to be easy.
It is easy to understand why Vettori said how New Zealand were “ecstatic to be here and playing in a (World Cup) semi-final”.
Vettori added how the Kiwis needed to apply the same patience that they showed in Dhaka to beat South Africa in the major upset of the tournament. New Zealand have a habit of slipping below the radar in such tournaments, yet have a history of surprises and winning games that seemed to be out of their reach. Is this possible yet again? Or asking too much?
“We have become used to this kind of performance,” he said thoughtfully. “We are here with high expectation of ourselves as it is a great achievement to reach the semi-finals. What we do know, is how this one will be a lot tougher.”
Vettori didn’t hint what side would play against Sri Lanka, with the Kiwis holding a 35/33 edge over their hosts, but Sri Lanka have a 5/3 edge in World Cup games which includes a run of four successive victories. The figures for Premadasa are 5/1 in favour of Sri Lanka at ODI level while the Kiwis are 2/0 in T20.
What is important here is how New Zealand approach the game and their attack with even the more caustic critics at home admitting they have underestimated the side. New Zealand have reached this stage so often before yet buckled in the semis. The most amazing one was the defeat by Pakistan at Old Trafford in 1999. Yet they still keep coming back.
As Vettori added with a smile, the side has been up and down throughout the tournament and at the knockout stage, it has to be consistent. It is a similar view offered by Sangakkara.
Against South Africa it was the Ross Taylor/Jesse Ryder partnership which led the struggle on a slow surface where bounce was not as consistent as it should have been and a 221 scoreline was about 40 runs short of the correct target.
It has also been a while since Brendan McCullum has fired in an ODI game, and as with Dilshan, is a batsman for the big occasion. Yet, as Vettori and Sangakkara have admitted, the adjustment to conditions is the area where the game can be won and lost. As with Sri Lanka, the Kiwis have shown patience in such conditions this World Cup. It could be their ticket to success and a place in the final.
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