Cricket: Racing for inside track in quarters

By David Leggat

In one sense it doesn't matter too much; in another it could determine how far New Zealand will progress in the World Cup.

That's the backdrop to their final Group A game tonight against Sri Lanka at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium.

Under a seriously forgiving format, both are already assured of a quarter-final place, win or lose.

However, where they finish could be determined tonight. The higher the placing, the easier the quarter-final opponent, or so the theory goes.

Certainly New Zealand would rather avoid heavyweights India or South Africa - although some of their recent cricket has been haphazard but who are likely to top Group B.

Equally, the West Indies have been pretty handy in the tournament and Bangladesh finally showed their qualities against England.

New Zealand are without injured senior duo, captain Dan Vettori and seamer Kyle Mills, although the word out of the camp is that both are looking decent chances to be fit for the start of the quarter-finals next Wednesday.

"Obviously it's disappointing not to have them in the team but it gives someone else an opportunity to step up and also will show what character our team is made of," said stand-in captain Ross Taylor yesterday.

He'll be hoping that remark doesn't come back to bite him tonight.

Mills' place is likely to go to Hamish Bennett in a like-for-like swap, with the hope that the lively Bennett loses some of his erratic tendencies.

Luke Woodcock would be the equivalent swap for Vettori, but the tour selectors, Vettori and coach John Wright, chose not to give the Wellington allrounder what was an ideal opportunity for a game when the chance presented itself a few days ago against Canada.

That suggested Woodcock is very much the 15th man in the squad. Kane Williamson, who made some brisk runs late on against the Canadians, is likely to get the other spot.

Taylor talked of the need to keep some momentum going. New Zealand have won four of their five games, although three have been against Kenya, Zimbabwe and Canada, and they got a serious touch-up from the Australians in the other.

He talked of the familiarity both teams will have with each other through recent meetings. In the last five years, Sri Lanka have won seven of the 10 ODIs which were completed.

They should be among the tournament favourites, too.

This is their first game outside Sri Lanka, a chance to dry-run the cup final venue. No home crowd support? No problem, says one of their finest players, Mahela Jayawardene.

"When we are at home as a team there are so many things that are happening; we hardly spend time together," he said. "When we came to India, we had a couple of really good days when we played some games together and had some activities.

"It's a good thing for the team as well to come out of Sri Lanka and bond together, and analyse a bit more as a team what we need to do."

He praised New Zealand's ability to play as a unit, which is generous considering the lousy run of ODI form they brought into the tournament.

But Jayawardene insists the identity of their quarter-final opponent isn't even on the radar.

"We can't pick and choose who we want to play in the quarter-finals. We have spoken very little about it because there are a lot of equations. We want to concentrate on the New Zealand game and finish high up in our group.

"We have prepared for the World Cup knowing we can go all the way and win it. So for us to do that we have to play anybody; that's our attitude."

It's a good, assertive one, too.

They have top class batsmen in the skilful Jayawardene and captain Kumar Sangakkara, who is averaging 126 in the cup, in-form openers in Tillekaratne Dilshan and Upal Tharanga - each with a century and averaging 56.6 and 64.5 respectively - testing spinners in Muttiah Muralitharan, coming to the end of a remarkable career, and Ajantha Mendis and awkward seamers.

New Zealand have had one game at the Wankhede Stadium, and nine days settled in one city. The game advantage won't matter much; the stability in terms of location should.

Teams:

New Zealand: (probable) Ross Taylor (c), Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill, Jesse Ryder, James Franklin, Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, Nathan McCullum, Jacob Oram, Tim Southee, Hamish
Bennett.

Sri Lanka: (from) Kumar Sangakkara (c), Tillekaratne Dilshan, Upal Tharanga, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Angelo Matthews, Chamara Kapugedera, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekera, Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando, Thisara Perera.

NZ vs Sri Lanka ODIs
Overall: P 75, W 35, L 32
Last 5 years: P 12, W 3, L 7, N/R 2

SEVEN OF SRI LANKA'S FINEST

1. Muttiah Muralitharan
Okay his action is, um, unconventional. He's been scrutinised more often, attacked more vigourously than any other bowler, but he's passed all the tests. He's also taken a record 800 test wickets, at 22.72, more than any other cricketer, always played his cricket with a broad smile and is regarded as a lovely guy. He's won more tests for his country than anyone else. In ODIs, going into tonight's game against New Zealand, Muralitharan, who hails from Kandy - the new Pallekele ground being used during the World Cup, is also known as the Muttiah Muralitharan International Stadium - has 526 wickets, also a record, from 346 games at 23.12. He's also the inspiration for the next generation of Sri Lankan spinners. That's fine, as long as they don't try and copy his action.

2: Duleep Mendis
The man who led Sri Lanka to their first test victory, over India in Chennai in their 14th test. The roly poly, wristy batsman with the doleful eyes, was a classy batsman, who actually played for his country before they won international recognition while still a schoolboy. Mendis was the first Sri Lankan to hit two centuries in a test, 105 and 105 against India in Chennai in 1982, and almost repeated it two years later at Lord's, with 111 and 94. He averaged a modest 31.24 in 23 tests and played 79 ODIs. But his part in Sri Lanka's rise to a prominent place in the game is unquestioned and was capped by being manager of the side which won the World Cup in 1996.

3: Arjuna Ranatunga
Brash and aggressive, the tubby Ranatunga was a hero to young Sri Lankan fans from the time he cracked the national side at 18. He was a slick operator with a bat, a clever manipulator of bowling and a figure who found it easy to draw the ire of opponents. As Australia were struggling to get him to move out of his crease in one game, wicketkeeper Ian Healy chirped to bowler Shane Warne "put a Mars bar on a good length. That should do it." On another occasion, Ranatunga asked for a runner on a sticky night in an ODI. Roared Healy: "You don't get a runner for being an unfit, fat, lazy, ****". He argued with umpires but was an inspiring figure for his country. Ranatunga, who hit Sri Lanka's first test 50 in its inaugural test in 1982, played 93 tests - captained them a record 56 times - and 269 ODIs, with another record 193 of them as skipper. His greatest moment was leading Sri Lanka to the World Cup title in 1996. Charismatic, stroppy and unquestionably one of the key figures in his country's cricket.

4: Sanath Jayasuriya
When New Zealand played Sri Lanka in Bloemfontein in an ODI on their tour of South Africa in 1994-95, they were flayed to all parts by the quietly-spoken lefthand opener. That 140 announced Jayasuriya and he was on the international scene as late as December 2009, when he played his 444th and final ODI. Only Sachin Tendulkar (449 and rising) has played more. Three of the 13 fastest ODI hundreds are his. With his blazing bat he and Romesh Kaluwitharana redefined the role of one-day openers during the 1996 World Cup. But Jayasuriya was better than simply a blazing bat. He hit a triple century in a test against India in Colombo, averaging 40 in 110 tests, and hitting 28 ODI tons. His flattish left arm spin was pretty handy, too.

5: Aravinda de Silva
Scorer of Sri Lanka's most famous century, his 107 not out steering his country to a seven-wicket win over Australia in the World Cup final of 1996 in Lahore. A brilliant batsman, de Silva ranks as his country's finest, a wristy artist who hit 6361 runs at 42.97 in his 93 tests over 18 years, including 20 centuries. A terrific attacker, strong on the cut and hook, de Silva stood just 1.6m tall. His highest test score was 267 against New Zealand in 1991 at the Basin Reserve, aka Martin Crowe's 299 test. He spent a season with Auckland when they experimented with wearing shorts in the one-day competition. It's fair to say de Silva suited long pants better but his 106 not out against Canterbury at Eden Park in early 1997 won't be forgotten by those who saw it.

6: Kumar Sangakkara
The skipper, wicketkeeper and best batsman, so you could say Sangakkara is rather important for Sri Lanka right now. His 8244 runs at 57.25 from 94 tests are second only to Jayasuriya in aggregate, but top on average. He's hit seven double hundreds, equal to Wally Hammond and bettered only by Don Bradman (12) and Brian Lara (9). Over his 11-year career he's got better and better. He averages 37.46 over 280 ODIs and has destroyed the best attacks. A brilliant shotmaker, whose 192 against Australia in Hobart four years ago ranks as one of the great modern innings. If Sri Lanka are to win the World Cup, they need Sangakkara in top form through the knockout stage.

7: Lasith Malinga
If Muralitharan has the most criticised bowling action in cricket history, Malinga possesses perhaps the most unusual. He's a throwback to the days of luxuriant whiskers, braces and bowling in street shoes when the ball was delivered with a round-arm action. Malinga, with his colourful hairdos, earrings, bowling action and success is hugely popular. His slower ball is a nightmare for batsmen to handle, his bouncer can be skiddy, all at sharp pace and coming at a trajectory roughly level with the umpire's chest. He took nine wickets in his fifth test at Napier, has 20 in four against New Zealand and is a key figure in Sri Lanka's bowling attack in all three forms. He's 27, in his prime and if you throw the whole package together Malinga is among the most colourful cricketers in the modern game.

- NZ Herald

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