Kiwis a distant second to Lanka

Sri Lanka’s performance against New Zealand at Mumbai was nothing short of being clinical. I thought the machine worked with military precision especially when the Lankans fielded. The huge hype concerning the Kiwis after their victory over Pakistan appeared to be hollow than having the type of depth everybody expected. On March 18, 2011 the Kiwis to me was a distant second to Sri Lanka.

The win has made Sri Lanka the undisputed second of the group irrespective of the result of the Australia vs Pakistan game. It is now to the do-or-die stage with more or less the quarter finalists being found.

One of the major concerns of Sri Lanka which is the middle order was once again the focal point of discussion. With the openers gone cheaply it was up to the Skipper and the deputy to carry on their good work and that they did with splendid assurance. Taking their time during the difficult period of batting both Jayawardane and Sangakkara were getting into top gear when Jayawardane was dismissed. I wonder whether the promotion of Mathews to number five was the proper choice when he walked in, though he displayed his ice cool temperament guiding Sri Lanka towards an imposing score under the circumstances.

Sri Lanka's captain Kumar Sangakkara (C) celebrates with teammates the dismissal of New Zealand's Hamish Bennett -REUTERS

I qualify the word imposing as the pitch wasn’t a belter as most people expected! Thus in a way to have Mathews who is normally a finisher at the important number five was justified. Having said that sending Samaraweera at number six was a bigger surprise! And unfortunately he didn’t last long creating immense pressure on Chamara Silva who batted next. To me Samaraweera’s selection in the team is a defensive one and should be viewed accordingly. I am positive that there would have been no argument had Samaraweera walked in at eighty or ninety for three. But at two hundred for four Sri Lanka needed a Chamara Silva who is an attacking batsman by nature and could have taken the pressure off the young Mathews with his improvised stroke play. Instead both were dismissed cheaply and had it not been for Mathews and some blows from Malinga and Muralitheren Sri Lanka were bound to fall short of the two fifty mark.

One other area that Sri Lanka badly needs to fill is the position of a power hitter! Oh for a Symonds! One of the chief reasons for the Australian success during the early part of the first decade in the new millennium was the contribution Symonds made with his power hitting at number six or seven. It is factual that you need such a player in your OD line up to move things along towards the death of an innings. Though in the game against New Zealand at Mumbai the pitch wasn’t ideal for such stroke play. It was a pitch that demanded settling in first and then as Sangakkara, Jayawardane and Mathews demonstrated, you could move freely!

But on the subject of a power hitter for Sri Lanka which is a definite must Thisara Perera to me can be developed to play a similar role. However it is important that young Perera be told this and be guided on those lines as power hitters have never been widespread in the Sri Lankan line up and to have one would be pivotal in the overall plan of winning ODI’s and T 20 games.

When Sri Lanka bowled the worst fears of the Kiwis came true. Being completely outplayed by the spin of Muralitheren, Mendis and Dilshan! The batsmen hadn’t a clue when dealing with Murali and Mendis and simply succumbed to the pressure which was created confirming my theory that the sub continent wasn’t a happy place for batsmen especially from New Zealand and England. The other two serious contenders South Africa and Australia have world class batsmen in their ranks which is sadly a luxury for the English and the Kiwis. Whilst most batsmen are bound to dominate the one dimensional bowling attacks, they do get stretched as soon as they are up against real quality bowling which the Lankans possess.

So the first round is over and Sri Lanka has been able to come through with comparative ease despite the early loss to Pakistan. The real test is from now on where one can not afford to make mistakes as no second chance is available to teams. However the benefit the Sri Lankans have, going in to the quarter final is the positive mind set besides the peaking of the team which hasn’t happened too early. After the defeat against Pakistan to come back well in the rest of the games and to continue in that vein is a confidence booster. This will naturally enhance the level of self confidence in the players to overcome a pressure tournament such as the World cup. Hence in theory Sri Lanka needs just three good days of cricket in the World Cup. Let us look forward to it!

Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator

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