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Friday, April 13, 2007

Sri Lanka wounds New Zealand

If the result of this much anticipated Super Eights game is any guide to the future prospects of the participants, then Sri Lanka look certain semi-finalists and possible (I'm tempted to say probable) finalists. New Zealand will need to regroup, lick their wounds, and think carefully about how to prevent the Lankans from rubbing more salt into them should they meet again.

The Black Caps won the toss and (surprise) chose to bat, a decision they'd doubtless regretted after the innings was 13 balls old, when (as the TV News highlights showed) Chaminda Vaas had Ross Taylor flatfootedly edging a ball to a diving keeper Sangakkara. This was the second wicket to fall, and the second duck, as Stephen Fleming had shortly before confirmed that he is Vaas' bunny with what looked like a death wish padding up on (or, perhaps as he hoped, outside) off stump, which the umpire adjudged to be l b w. Cricinfo's stats analysis, by George Binoy and H R Gopalakrishna, fills in the details of this extraordinarily onesided personal mismatch.

If 2/4 didn't take the wind out of New Zealand's sails it certainly discouraged any thoughts of recklessness, or even modest aggression. Peter Fulton and Steve Styris added 67 in 106b before Vaas, who finished with 9-2-33-3, struck again to remove Fulton for 28/54b. Craig McMillan didn't last long, though Jacob Oram stayed for a while without, except for a solitary 6 (his only boundary) , looking as if he was going to set the world on fire. He was fifth out, at 145, for 31/45b, and Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori soon followed as Muttiah Muralitharan (10-0-32-3) tightened his constrictor-like grip. 7/155 was verging on a minnow country score but James Franklin joined Styris and together the pair put a couple of patches on their team's reputation by batting out the 50 overs without further loss , during which Styris reached his century (111 n o/157 b) and the total 219. I was impressed with the modest unPietersen- like manner in which Styris celebrated (acknowledged is a more accurate term) his achievement, which was broadly conparable to Pietersen's in the Australia - England game.

219 didn't look enough at the time (whatever would have happened without Styris' contribution?), and so it proved. Sri Lanka lost Upal Tharanga at 30, whereupon Sanath Jayasuriya (64/80b) and Kumar Sangakkara (69 n o/104b), as they have done so often in one day internationals, put their team on course for a win. The NZ fielding produced some gaffes for the TV highlights (how good a keeper is McCullum?) and while Vettori chipped in with a couple of wickets, neither Shane Bond nor anyone else was penetrating, so the Lankans cantered to a comfortable 6 wicket win with 29 balls remaining. They have a powerful team (Malinga didn't play today because of injury) with strong and, if needs be, aggressive batting, a varied attack , and good fielding. Their game against Australia should be a corker...and I'm not yet willing to predict a winner.

New Zealand have, and I'm not the only person to make this point, problems with their early batting and some of their bowling. They've also been dealt a poor hand with injuries, so there are few quality replacements in the wings. That said they should be able to give South Africa a better contest than they gave the Sri Lankans: whether it's enough to beat them is another matter. As for their fixture with Australia, it's hard to see them continuing their New Zealand form....
Cricinfo match package.


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