Preview: Australia and Sri Lanka clash in high octane encounter

Brett Lee of Australia during a practise session in Colombo.

By Jamie Alter

Colombo: Mar 5, 2011

If there had been a pre-tournament poll of matches to whet the appetite, it’s a safe bet that Australia against Sri Lanka two teams with explosive bowling attacks would have topped a lot of lists. Now, given the tone that too many lopsided matches has set, their clash at the R Premadasa Stadium has gathered renewed interest, and it s not unthinkable that this game serves as a dress rehearsal for the semi-finals or even beyond.

Just what contest do you most wish to see from this tantalizing match? Can you pick one over another? Shane Watson, Australia s most important player, against the pace and swing of Lasith Malinga? A struggling Ricky Ponting against Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis? Brett Lee and Shaun Tait hurling down yorkers and bouncers to Tillakaratne Dilshan? Mitchell Johnson trying to unsettle Mahela Jayawardene?

This is a marquee clash, make no doubt about it. It s evident that teams with good bowling attacks are going to be favourites at this World Cup, and they don t really come better than Sri Lanka and Australia. Lee, Tait, Johnson pace, pace and more pace on one side, Malinga, Murali and Mendis on the other. Tait and Johnson dismantled New Zealand, and a similar approach can be expected against Sri Lanka. Australia know their strongest chance of winning lies if their pace battery roughs up the opposition.

The biggest challenge as ever for Australia will be negotiating Murali. Malinga’s astounding performance against Kenya notwithstanding, Murali is the man who has the World Cup experience to fall back on. How Ponting, battling his demons against spin, Michael Clarke and Cameron White handle Murali could prove decisive in the final outcome.

On paper, it appears that Sri Lanka’s batting ought to be better equipped for the conditions. Their top order has all been in the runs and they know how to bat at the R Premadasa, and Sangakkara has decidedly commented that chasing at the venue is not impossible. A few months ago, Sri Lanka toured Australia and beat the hosts in a historic one-day series in a manner that few subcontinental teams have managed Down Under. Not much overawes this team under Sangakkara, so don t expect them to back down against Australia.

So far it is Australia who have had a smoother ride in the World Cup. They ve yet to be put under pressure, having seen off Zimbabwe and steamrolling New Zealand, but will be aware that the challenge has just been taken to a new level.

Teams:

Sri Lanka (Probable): Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (c & wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Angelo Mathews, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan.

Australia (Probable): Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Ricky Ponting (c), Michael Clarke, Cameron White, David Hussey, Steven Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Jason Krejza, Shaun Tait.

Umpires: Tony Hill (New Zealand) and Ian Gould (England).

Time: 14.30 local (09.00 GMT).


(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now)

Pictures Getty Images