Sri Lanka were always expected to be here, but no one New Zealand gave a chance to make it to the semi finals, especially after their performance in the series against Bangladesh and India on the sub continent that took place prior to the World Cup. But some resolute efforts, other outstanding ones and, yet again, a bumbling South Africans saw them through. Of course this not the first time and possibly not the last time that they have made it to the last four. In fact this will mark their record sixth appearance in the semi finals, an achievement worth appreciating. The flip is that they haven’t progressed any further in the preceding tournaments.
In contrast, Sri Lanka have lot going for them. Firstly, they will be playing at home, which anyways will give them an added advantage. Secondly, most of their players are in great form and will be looking to put up another imperious showing against the Kiwis. Their recent World Cup record also has been excellent. They made it to the finals back in the Caribbean with some superlative performances before running to a man named Adam Gilchrist in the finals. The only factor which might go against them in the semis will be the fact that they came through untested in the quarter final clash against England. The latter, which had be the most erratic side in the tournament reserved the worst for the game against Sri Lanka and as a result Sri Lanka came through unchallenged. While the manner of victory must have thrilled them no end, deep down even they would have wanted a closer game considering the stage of the tournament.
Malinga vs. McCullum
Both Lasith Malinga and Brendon McCullum are mavericks – one with the ball and the other with the willow. But, while the Sri Lankan has been at the top of his game again, the same cannot be said of McCullum. His big knocks have been thus far reserved for minnows. But, on the big day against Sri Lanka, he would be expected to come good considering his vast experience. Cometh the hour, cometh the man they say. Against South Africa, McCullum couldn’t prove the adage right, but the Proteas have given him another chance to do so against the Lankans. It would be an incredibly tough task though as Malinga is in the greatest form of his like akin to 2007. Like that year, he has taken a hat trick this time too and has been getting wickets at will. His slinging action and unplayable yorkers have found pride of place in soft drink commercials too. If New Zealand want to kill the Malinga threat, McCullum is one man who is capable of the same. Will he be able to do it or whether he, at present possesses the confidence to do so is another matter altogether.
Taylor vs. Murali
The Ross Taylor versus Muttiah Muralitharan battle will be another great contest within the contest that could go a long way in deciding the fate of the match. Taylor is without doubt a great player of spin, but he will be able to quell the Murali challenge remains to be seen. The good thing for New Zealand is that Taylor has been in excellent form post his Pakistan bashing. Having said that, Murali will offer a totally different challenge. Pakistan’s attack wasn’t as strong as Sri Lanka’s and it will not be an easy task for the Kiwis to take on Murali and co. They will thus look forward to a Taylor-made solution.
Ryder vs. Mendis
Like Taylor versus Murali, Jesse Ryder taking on Ajantha Mendis will be another key battle. Till the quarters, Ryder was not in great form at all, but he played a mature knock against the South Africans which should stand him in good stead for the semis. He probably doesn’t have the technique but does possess the temperament to come good in big matches. On the other hand, Mendis has not been deadly by any stretch of the imagination, but has still been a good foil for Murali. If the legend gets his act right, it will be difficult to get him away and the likes of Ryder will then be forced to attack. That will be his best chance to get among the wickets.
Southee vs. Dilshan
For New Zealand to do well, they will need to get the in-form Lankan openers cheaply. And Tim Southee will be the key here. He has done exceptionally in patches, but will have to be in his elements against the Lankans on Tuesday. That is because he will be up against Tillakaratne Dilshan. The latter has been in exquisite form in the recent games and that does not augur well for the New Zealanders. It has helped that he has got good support from fellow opener Upul Tharanga. New Zealand’s biggest hopes to upset the Lankan opening combo lie with Southee. It will be battle worth watching.
Vettori vs. Sangakkara
It’s the battle of the captains, one with the bat and the other with the ball. Kumar Sangakkara has a distinct advantage here as Lankans are among the best players of spin. Even so, Vettori is undoubtedly the best left arm spinner in world cricket today. Even if he cannot come up with something sensational, he would be expected to rise to the occasion and lead from the front in all aspects not least of all with the ball.
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