Semi-final Preview: Kiwis aim for first final against a strong Sri Lankan side

muralitharan bowls ahead of Sri lanka’s match ahainst New Zealand

By Jamie Alter

Colombo: Mar 28, 2011

It s a repeat of 2007. Four years ago, Sri Lanka and New Zealand met in the World Cup semi-finals at Sabina Park. On that day, Sri Lanka won on the back of a handsome century from Mahela Jayawardene and set up a date with a mighty Australian side in the final. This time around there is no Australia on the horizon, but both teams have admitted a sense of d j vu ahead of the biggest match of the tournament.

So far it is Sri Lanka who have enjoyed the smoother of the two campaigns. They will be bullish about this contest, having beaten New Zealand in Mumbai and thrashed England by 10 wickets. That last win proved that chasing at the Premadasa wasn t so difficult, so the confidence Sri Lanka will have should they be in that position again will be immense. They look a very formidable side, with a bowling unit capable to anything and a top four which hasn t left the middle order exposed.

The way their openers, Upul Tharanga and Tillakaratne Dilshan, went about crushing England while recording their second double-century alliance of the tournament was frightening. New Zealand know they must make early inroads to even have a chance of competing. When openers bat like that, the losing side doesn t come out second, as Graeme Swann will tell you; they come out a distant third.

With the ball, Sri Lanka have a wide group of match-winners to rely on – Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, and Nuwan Kulasekara though he was replaced with Rangana Herath against England. Murali has 79 wickets at 17.86 from his 40 games against New Zealand and with this being his final engagement, you can expect the wily veteran to come out hungry.

The mood in the New Zealand camp is upbeat. The players believe they have a genuine shot at reaching the final. They aren t talking of winning the title, but New Zealand are confident of upsetting Sri Lanka. Their assurance isn t misplaced. They knocked aside one of the strongest sides in the tournament albeit with some help from the most infamous bunch of chokers ever and in the league phase beat Pakistan, who possess a very good bowling attack.

In cricket it s all about what happens on the day, and how many times have we seen the form book go out the window? New Zealand are on a high after their quarter-final triumph and that makes them dangerous. They re not the flashiest of sides and rarely impose themselves on the opposition, but their fielding against South Africa was outstanding and if they can replicate such efforts, who know what pressure can be inflicted on Sri Lanka.

And it seems some of their key players have hit their strides at the right time. Jesse Ryder s 83 was so vital to the win over South Africa, even as Daniel Vettori termed it a “forgotten innings”. Jacob Oram s catch of Jacques Kallis was the pivotal moment, and four wickets earned him the Man-of-the-Match award. The 38 runs Kane Williamson added to New Zealand s total proved crucial. Nathan McCullum was exceptional, reeling off his last eight overs for just 11 runs to finish with three for 26. Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum have each hit match-winning centuries in the tournament, while Martin Guptill has been a steady contributor. Now New Zealand need something special from their captain.

Teams:

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

New Zealand (Probable): Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum (wk), Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori (capt), Nathan McCullum, Luke Woodcock/Andy McKay, Tim Southee.

Umpires: Steve Davis (Australia) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan)

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. His twitter feed is @jamie_alter.)

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