Murali, Mendis magic holds sway

After a month of action the Cricket World Cup has reached a crucial stage as the top eight teams earn their rightful place in the quarter finals leaving behind the minnows and possibly Bangladesh. Despite intense competition for the last eight and some nail biting finishes in the first round, none of the teams have emerged as clear favourites making the knock-out stage even more intense and competitive much to the satisfaction of the organizers and the fans who have thronged all the Stadiums in their numbers.

Muttiah Muralitharan (R) taking the wicket of Scott Styris next to teammate Tillakaratne Dilshan during their ICC Cricket World Cup group A match in Mumbai March 18, 2011. REUTERS

The game against New Zealand was not going to be an easy affair as the Lankans were playing on a neutral ground and were fully aware that the Kiwis were on a high after a morale boosting victory over Pakistan. It is always a challenge when you play on a neutral ground. You never know what the condition of the wicket is going to be and how it will fare for a 100 over game.However the fact that most of our cricket is played in this region would have given the boys some comfort.

It was a good toss for Sangakkara to win and opting to bat first would have pleased his batters. However it was disappointing to see both openers Tharanga and Dilshan back in the pavilion early. The openers have been found wanting in this world cup especially against the stronger oppositions. At a time when we rely a lot on Sangakkara and Jayawardene it is important that the openers see off the shine and the initial movement in order to pave the way for the rest of the batsman. Even if the runs are hard to come Dilshan and Tharanga need to hang on in the center as it also drives some confidence in the batters to come.Dilshan in particular needs to be more selective in his shots as the longer he spends time in the crease the opposition will get frustrated.

After the early demise of Tharanga and Dilshan Sangakkara and Jayawardene stringed together a century stand that put the Lankans back on the rails. The duo batted with a lot of purpose as done so frequently. Run making was not easy but the experience of Sangakkara and Jayawardene prevailed as the duo accumulated runs to keep the scoreboard ticking and more importantly kept their wickets intact. I was always of the view that Sangakkara and Jayawardene read the game very well, assesed the situations accordingly and then play their natural game. In Mumbai that was exactly how the Lankan veterans played. so much so that for a moment you could have thought that the manner they were playing resembled the first day of a test match.

But the departure of the inform pair exposed Sri Lanka’s middle order. Apart from the reliable Angelo Matthews the rest of the batsman failed. This is certainly a worry for the Lankan camp. If the batsman are failing it will be a better option of drafting in the all-rounder Thisara Perera or opt for Chamara Kapugedara who has been sitting on the bench for some time now. Thats a call skipper Kumar Sangakkara will have to make before the quarter finals next week.

As I suggested last week Angelo Matthews was pushed up the order and how well he responded. Angelo has time and again shown that he can bat under pressure, can push the singles and can get the boundaries when needed most. The promising all-rounder although just 23 years of age has matured to a very useful cricketer and needs to be batting up the order if we are to get the most of him.
After demolishing the Kenyans early on in the tournament, Lasith Malinga was not at his best against the Zimbabweans and New Zealand. He appears to be slightly off line with the new ball. That is not surprising as the new ball tends to swing and aiming for Yorkers is not an easy task. But given the slightly older tail Malinga is lethal, and can pick up wickets almost at will. Kulasekera was spot on but lacks a genuine new ball partner.

On Friday night it was however the magic of Muralitharan and Mendis that sent the Kiwis packing with almost fifteen overs remaining. The New Zealanders have always found it difficult to negotiate spinners. Muralitharan playing his last game in the preliminary rounds in India ran through the Kiwis taking four wickets that helped Sri Lanka to a resounding victory. The victory apart from taking the Lankans to the quarter final will give the team a huge boost ahead of the all important games.

Sri Lanka will have the added advantage of playing the quarter final at home in front of a full house at the Premadasa stadium. It appears that their likely opponents would be England in this game and I am sure the Lankan will fancy getting the better of the Englishman. In 1996 we demolished the Englishman in the quarters when Sanath Jayasuriya tore into the opposition with a swashbuckling half century. This time around we will not see a Jayasuriya but the Lankan team has it in them to get the better of their opponents and move into the semi finals.

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