Cricket: Murali still in doubt

Sri Lanka's record-breaking spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is a doubt for Tuesday's World Cup semi-final against New Zealand after struggling to shake off a hamstring injury and knee problem.

The veteran player, who will retire after the World Cup, was expected to play a major role after taking 4-25 in Sri Lanka's 112-run win over New Zealand in the group stages.

But he picked up the hamstring injury in that game and was hurt again in the quarter-final win over England.

Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara admitted one-day's highest wicket-taker with 532, now faces a race against time to get fit.

"Murali and everyone around him is trying to get him as fit as soon as possible and fit enough to play," said Sangakkara, who hinted that even a half-fit Muralitharan might play.

"It's no use thinking about the final and saving him for other games.

"This is the crunch game and if he can play tomorrow that'll be great for us, but if that doesn't work out, we've got enough cover to make sure that we are still a solid winning side," said Sangakkara of replacing the off-spinner with paceman Nuwan Kulasekara.

Muralitharan injured his knee and aggravated a quadricep muscle against England.

"There are multiple injuries. So we'll just have to monitor how he goes and hope he is fit enough to play," said Sangakkara of Muralitharan, who also took four wickets when Sri Lanka defeated the Black Caps by 81 runs in the 2007 semi-finals.

Sri Lanka have batted and bowled solidly in the tournament, but their fielding left a lot to be desired against England, dropping four catches, three off Eoin Morgan - a weakness Sangakkara believed could be costly.

"We need to brush up on our fielding and improve because if you give one batsman a chance then it can prove costly," said Sangakkara.

Openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga have hit two centuries in the tournament besides putting up two double hundred partnerships, while Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have also hit a hundred each.

New Zealand's motivation for a place in the final will not be lacking as they have failed to go beyond the semi-finals in five previous attempts.

Captain Daniel Vettori believes a lack of consistency was the reason for the failures.

"It's our big chance in the semi-finals to go one better," said Vettori, whose team has only won one major event, Champions Trophy in 2000.

New Zealand will once again look to all-rounder Jacob Oram to create some magic, like his four wickets and two superb catches against South Africa in the quarter-final.

"I think the reputation we have is that we can beat any team on a given day," said Vettori, who along with Nathan McCullum and Luke Woodcock can match Sri Lanka's spin trio, if the R Premadasa pitch offers turn.

Pacer Andy McKay has replaced injured Kyle Mills in the squad, but will have to wait on the sidelines as Daryl Tuffey could come in.

- AFP

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