MUMBAI, (Reuters) – Sri Lanka will stick to the tried and tested formula they employed to defeat New Zealand in their group match when they clash in Colombo today for a place in the World Cup final.
The Sri Lankans thumped New Zealand by 112 runs in their last group match as the Kiwi batsmen found the Sri Lankan spinners too hot to handle and were shot out for 153 inside 35 overs.
Seven wickets went to the spinners on that occasion with the wily Muttiah Muralitharan bagging four.
Conditions will be similar on the low and slow pitch at the Premadasa Stadium on Tuesday and the Sri Lankan bowlers will once again look to prosper as they bid to reach a third World Cup final.
In Lasith Malinga, Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis the 1996 champions have probably the best and most varied bowling attack in the tournament.
“We kind of understand that they find the variation in our bowling attack a bit troublesome,” Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara said after the win against the Kiwis in Mumbai.
“So we try and maximise on that fact but at the same time we try and make sure that we put good totals on the board. I think they find Lasith Malinga, Murali and Mendis quite difficult.”
Muralitharan, 38, who will retire from international cricket after the tournament, left the field early in the World Cup quarter-final win over England on Saturday but he is expected to be fit for Tuesday’s semi-final.
While the focus has been on the bowlers, the Sri Lankan top-order batting of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga have silently gone about their job.
The three batsmen currently feature at the second, fourth and fifth positions respectively in the tournament’s highest run-getters’ list. Openers Dilshan and Tharanga have already combined in two double century partnerships and the Kiwi bowlers have to try and send them back quickly to have any hopes of reaching the lower middle order, which is Sri Lanka’s only weak link.
The Black Caps will be motivated by their stunning upset win against South Africa in the quarter-final and will need more of that discipline and application if they hope to stretch the home side.
New Zealand managed to skittle South Africa for 172 after setting them a target of 222 to win the match but will have to bat better than that to restrict the strong Sri Lankan batting, as England found out on Saturday in their quarter-final.
Chasing a target of 230 for victory, Sri Lanka romped home with all their wickets intact and 63 balls to spare to set up the date with New Zealand.
On Tuesday the Kiwis will make their sixth appearance in World Cup semi-finals but they have never managed to advance any further.
“We have to bat well, that’s the key for us. I think the boys are learning, you need those wickets in hand going into the last overs and you set those targets,” coach John Wright said.
“We’ll look inwards and focus very much on trying to get better as a unit.”
They fielded and bowled brilliantly to send favourites South Africa packing and Sangakkara knows it will be foolish to take New Zealand lightly.
“I think it is important to be confident but also realistic. It’s a semi-final…It’s a one-off. Everyone has got the opportunity to do well,” Sangakkara said.
“They will come here and try to do well. They will be very hungry to get into the final and so are we.
“Everyone treats these kinds of games as opportunities to do something that they haven’t done before. Psychological advantages and all of that come second to proper cricket and good performances on the field.”