Preview: Sri Lanka hope to wrap up place in quarter-finals

Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka captain, plays a shot during match against Australia.

By Jamie Alter

Kandy: Mar 10, 2011

Let s not beat around the bush – Sri Lanka are superior to Zimbabwe in every position and should record a straightforward victory on Thursday. If Sri Lanka on five points from four matches beat Zimbabwe, their progression to the quarter-finals should be sealed. An upset will put them under immense pressure in their last match against New Zealand on March 18 in Mumbai, so they will look to wrap it up in Kandy itself. With an eye on gaining a favourable draw in the knock-out stage, they will aim to win both matches.

Against Australia, Kumar Sangakkara looked on course to score his first ODI century since 2008 before the rain came down, leaving him stranded on 74 not out. If the Sri Lankan captain picks off where he was cut off, and his plea to Tillakaratne Dilshan is upheld, Zimbabwe are in for a leather hunt. Dilshan, have scoring 50 against Canada, 41 against Pakistan and 44 against Kenya, fell for four to Australia and shared heated words with Shaun Tait.

Sangakkara has called on Dilshan to control his anger and focus his aggression on Zimbabwe. That is potentially bad news for the opposition. On the eve of the match, news reports surfaced that Dilshan had tested positive for a banned substance, but Mahela Jayawardene and team officials firmly snubbed any such talk. The Sri Lankan media manager, Brian Thomas, also confirmed that Dilshan had not been subjected to a drug test.

Should Zimbabwe field first, then their best bet would be to let Ray Price, Prosper Utseya and Greame Cremer have a go early. After two good outings, Price failed to take a wicket against New Zealand and he will have to improve significantly. If the surface is anything to go by what was on view during the New Zealand-Pakistan game, then the sluggish pitch should play into the hands of Sri Lanka s spin-heavy attack. Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath who replaced Nuwan Kulasekara against Australia are going to be very tough to handle.

While a win over Sri Lanka is not impossible, it is very, very difficult. To do that, the Zimbabwean batsmen will have to shed their inhibitions and play some fantastic cricket. So far in the tournament, most of their batsmen have looked overwhelmed by the occasion. The top order has been particularly culpable, with starts of 22, 0 and 2 leaving the experienced Tatenda Taibu with too much to do early in the piece. Most glaring has been the failings of opener Charles Coventry, and the move to promote him up the order has indeed come a cropper.

Regis Chakabva, who replaced the injured Sean Williams in Zimbabwe’s 10-wicket loss to New Zealand, is likely to retain his spot. Chris Mpofu may come back in for Tinashe Panyangara, who disappointed against New Zealand.

Though they are yet to play Kenya, Zimbabwe s fate has all but been sealed in the World Cup. Barring an unlikely upset over Pakistan, their campaign will end on March 20.


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

Zimbabwe (Probable): Brendan Taylor, Charles Coventry, Tatenda Taibu (wk), Craig Ervine, Elton Chigumbura (c), Regis Chakabva, Greg Lamb, Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer, Ray Price, Tinashe Panyangara/Chris Mpofu.

Umpires: Marais Erasmus (South Africa) and Nigel Llong (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