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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The business end of the World Cup

Finally, the World Cup is getting into the serious stages - with the semi-finals in the next week and finals during next weekend. All the teams must be having a huge sigh of relief at the thought of putting up their feet after such a long tour. South Africa, as expected, showed England the way of playing cricket in the true spirit by setting up a huge win. Australia gave a similar treatment to New Zealand in their meeting. Expectations were high for the match between the Aussies and Kiwis - since it was coming after the 3-0 drubbing that the Kiwis handed out to the Aussies. There were expectations that this might be a possible match-up in the finals and hence, this would be a dress rehearsal. But, the Kiwis planned to go the Sri Lankans way by resting their main strike bowlers - Shane Bond and Jacob Oram. This made the bowling attack weak, that could be demolished by the Aussies batsmen. But one would agree with the strategies taken by both the teams by hiding their main bowlers. That would be the only way that any teams could beat the Aussies - by springing a surprise weapon. Whether it materialises successfully, needs to be seen.

Hayden seems to be due for a flop and the other semi-finalists would be expecting that the moment arrives during the last 2 matches of the tournament. It doesnt look possible but who knows - a magical moment is required to dismiss him, if not an act of stupidity on the part of the batsman himself. Gilchrist has done well so far in the games so far, without any exceptional innings. Ponting has been overshadowed by Hayden, inspite of scoring so many runs already in the tournament. If the opposition teams get these 3 batsmen early, that would be the key to restricting the Aussies. One wonders what happened to Clarke during his innings against the Kiwis (he left a straight delivery on the line of his stumps to be bowled). But, he would have to perform both with the bat and ball (not much since Symonds has come back). Symonds and Hussey have not actually got big scores but they are well-known to come to form at the right time. Watson has showed his big-hitting skills atlast - even though the quality of opposition was not that great. With all these issues, if the Aussies are well on top of the tournament, that shows the difference between them and the rest of the teams.

The bowling of the Aussies has been well-oiled - bowling out all their opposition teams in matches that were played for the full 50 overs. Bracken has been stingy throughout whereas Tait has been given the license to bowl fast at opposition batsmen. Mcgrath and Hogg have been getting wickets regularly, as the batsmen think that they are easy meat to score off. Overall, the bowling looks good. But, they have not been put under pressure except against the English. They did well to come back against Pietersen & Co. but they havent been tested much. That would be the only concern from the Aussie think-tank. But, that would be a good concern to have, isnt it?

The Proteans face the Aussies in the semi-finals. Their attack seems to be uni-dimensional, without the presence of a world-class spinner. They would relish the chance of playing on the pitch that is laid out for the finals but to do that, they would have to get past the Aussies. Do they stand a chance? Not really. The think-tank should also stop tinkering with the attitude of their main batsman - Jacque Kallis. He must be looking at playing the entire 50 overs instead of trying to go overboard in his stroke-play. He is more suited to a more sedate method of batting and hence, should be the pivot around which the other stroke-makers (Greame Smith, AB De Viliers, Gibbs, Justin Kemp, Mark Boucher) freak out. Kemp has been dropped the last match - but he should be brought back to the eleven against the Aussies. Ntini must be also accommodated in the eleven but against whose expense is the problem that Smith must be having. Nel, Hall, Langeveldt have taken 5-wicket hauls in the tournament so far. Probably, a good idea is to drop Nel as he has played less matches compared to the other 2. Pollock has had a mixed tournament so far with more bad outings than the good ones. But, he is another bowler who can come good at the right time.

The Kiwis and Sri Lankans face off in the other semis. Both have followed similar strategies against Australia, but what would the Kiwis do to avoid yet another defeat against the Lankans. Spin has been their bane and unless they do a good job against Murali, they dont have a chance to win their match. Fleming must look at batting against the spinners since he has a good record against the Lankans. Bond and Franklin must look at getting early breakthroughs in order to reduce the damage that Jayasuriya could do. The pitch might not be very helpful to the Kiwis, though. That leaves the match leaning towards the Lankans more.

The Lankans obviously are the favorites but they must be guarded against complacency. Tharanga and Sangakkara havent scored much so far. Jayawardane has come back to form and that is a good sign for the team. The bowling is much better placed now with the attack of Vaas, Malinga, Murali and Jayasuriya/Dilshan. Whether Fernando plays or Maharoof will depend on the confidence of their batting. If the Lankans wish to have an insurance of better batting, the latter would be selected. The Lankans could spring another surprise by including Malinga in their eleven - against the Kiwis, especially.
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