Daring to dream (again)

PAUL HOLDEN
Last updated 11:38 29/03/2011

After the eradication by strangulation of South Africa on Saturday morning, the nation's cricket fans are trying to contain themselves and focus on their day jobs as we fantasise about being a mere 100 overs of magnificent cricket away from a World Cup final. Dare to dream, one more time...

Of course there is a significant obstacle in the way in the form of 11 Sri Lankans, many of whom have been in scorching form with bat and ball. They are due an off day.

So much more is on the line than when these two teams met in India a mere 11 days ago.

The crucial element, aside from having lady luck aboard for the semifinal ride, will be pressure and expectation. Can New Zealand soak up the former, and then impose it on the Sri Lankan XI? We have nothing to lose - but Sri Lanka do. Skipper Sangakkara is aware of it: "It's a question of playing good solid cricket, concentrate on doing the best. If we keep our heads and we perform as well as we can, we can turn it into a solid performance." But if they lose their heads...

If the Kiwis can chip out a couple of wickets early, field like demons, and have Brendon McCullum go thermonuclear in the powerplays, the kiloPascals could begin to weigh heavily on those fragile-looking Lankan shoulders.

Adding to our level of difficulty is the way Sri Lanka has managed to leverage just about every advantage known to cricket - including playing the game on the same deck used to dismantle England. That seems unfair.

I had to laugh when I saw that it wasn't the Sri Lankan Board, nor the Sri Lankan captain's call as to which pitch was to be used. As Cricinfo reported: "The call on which pitch is to be used is the groundsman's, and Anuruddha Polonowita, Sri Lanka's 72-year-old chief groundsman, said that he has chosen the most-fair strip." I'm sure with a World Cup final on the line, being played in the nation's capital, that was a thoroughly independent and objective decision by Mr Polonowita!

On the flipside, it has served to give the New Zealand team yet another reason to get angry. We haven't seen this much fire and brimstone since Ryan Sidebottom dropped the shoulder on Grant Elliott at The Oval.

*********

I see John Key has used his pull shot (witnessed firsthand at Fill the Basin) to dispatch an invitation from his Sri Lankan equivalent to attend the semifinal. Instead of making the 10,899-kilometre trip to the subcontinent for the semifinal, he is sending along the New Zealand high commissioner to India, Jan Henderson. Perhaps she could take along this chap who wrote last month: "Call me a traitor, a quisling…anything. I don’t want Sri Lanka to be the champions of the cricket World Cup 2011! Want to hang me, come catch me!"

*********

The subterfuge around Murali and his injury looks likely to play out with him taking the field. If he doesn't, it would be easy to get excited but is also likely to see the inclusion of freaky left-arm spinner Mudiyanselage Rangana Keerthi Bandara Herath. Against NZ he has conceded just 3.50 runs per over. Look out for his bamboozling cack-handed version of the carrom ball.

*********

Since the interminable West Indies World Cup in 2007, we've played Sri Lanka in one-dayers just a handful of times. Literally. Here are the names and numbers...

  • We've only won once, and they have won three. (The fifth one was a rain-stopped-play affair in Dambulla.) The good news is that the win we had was in a must-win encounter, in the glare of the cricketing world's headlights at the Champions Trophy in South Africa. The point here? NZ is capable of turning in a world-class performance when it matters
  • Soberingly, NZ's only 50s have come from the discarded BJ Watling (55), the prodigal son Jesse Ryder (74) and Martin Guptill (66). There have been zero centuries. Batsmen with a point to prove include Brendon McCullum, who has scored 74 in 3 bats against the Lankans since the last CWC, Ross Taylor (55 runs, 4 bats), Scott Styris (30 runs, 2 bats) and Kane Williamson (5 runs, 2 bats).
  • As Ryder and Taylor showed against South Africa, a decent partnership would be nice. It is the least we deserve for staying up all night. Just once has New Zealand made it past 100 (that fateful Champions Trophy match) when Ryder and McCullum went like the clappers opening the batting. We've only made it to 50 four times in the quartet of completed matches too, so make sure you consume your beverage of choice if we hit that milestone at any stage.
  • On the Sri Lankan side of the coin, Samaraweera has scored more runs against us than any other Sri Lankan since the last World Cup. He and Sangakkara both have tons chalked up. However, Jaywardene shapes as the key wicket - he routinely holds their batting together and has scored 50s in three of his last five bats against New Zealand. Elsewhere, England's conquerors Dilshan (five bats, 97 runs) and Tharanga (three bats, 85 runs) have relatively shoddy records against the Kiwis.
  • Bowling stars: Unfortunately the invalid Kyle Mills has been the most successful against Sri Lanka with 7 wickets in three matches. In better news all of Styris, Oram, Vettori, Franklin and Nathan McCullum go for less than 5 runs per over.
  • Over in Lanka Land, Malinga has been the wrecking ball with 9 wickets in four matches. Martin Crowe's mate Murali has only played us once, last week, so his average is preposterous and shall not be repeated.

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67 comments
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JakeNS   #1   11:43 am Mar 29 2011

As much as I love cricket, I am sick to death of watching NZ play teams from the Sub Continent.

I want to see us play Australia, Sth Africa and England more.

Riccardo   #2   12:06 pm Mar 29 2011

Love your work Holden. Stunned at weakness of ICC in allowing such a preposterous situation as this preferred home pitch nonsense. "Home ground advantage" my large rotund ar$e! It's cheating and at the World Cup no less. But then this entire tournament has been "geared" by the hosts after Training Sessions with one Seb Blatter and it is what it is. Hopefully the acidic fire in the belly will raise the BlackCaps desire. A few well timed verbal chips at the Lankans Ancestral evolution and unusual familial relationships would also not be unwelcome from this couchpotato's point of view. However, reality is that the BlackCaps have surprised us all with the success of the venture thus far and as a long term supporter I'm proud of 'em already. However I too have been daring to dream... at work... better go...

Chris   #3   12:14 pm Mar 29 2011

@ #1 JakeNS: It goes in cycles. We We've played Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh a lot more in the last few years, and will be playing more of South Africa, West Indies, etc in the next year or two. It's about trying to organise 10 countries in different hemispheres to play ODIs and Tests Home and again Away, with Tournaments all over the place...

Reg Corres   #4   12:48 pm Mar 29 2011

I think Murali will open the bowling, bowl his 10 on the trot and then go and sit in the stands for the remainder of the match.

The key for us is the unknown. Open with two spinners again, but this time use our unknown weapon in Woodcock to open. They would not have seen a lot of him so it might just work out. Baz is overdue and Piggy is potentially in his last game. Those two to top score for me as we chase down 310 in the last over.

Riccardo   #5   01:32 pm Mar 29 2011

@ Reg #4 and anyone else who know more than me. Given that Murali has been publicly outed as carrying two leg injuries how could he be allowed to bowl his allotment and then limp to the sideline and a replacement fielder take his place? Surely this would be farcical?

Ratbag   #6   01:36 pm Mar 29 2011

Sri Lanka are a very good side, but not a great one. They rely on a few stars, and their vaunted bowling attack can go for plenty. NZ's best chance will come if they're allowed to follow a similar plan to the one used against South Africa: bat first, progress steadily till the 35th over before cranking it up, set a decent 250+ score, then squeeze the Sri Lankans out. High time for a Baz special, as well.

Scott   #7   01:38 pm Mar 29 2011

Would we want to play on the other pitch though Holden, I seen that Aussie/Pakistan game and if they are correct that those were the two only options I would much prefer this one than that one. However if they could of prepaired a fresh pitch they should of.

Go the black caps, got the morning of work tomorrow so will be staying up till the end!!

guy   #8   02:02 pm Mar 29 2011

i see you're still sitting around rubbing your hands together, thinking mccullum will make more than single figures against decent opposition.

Ben A.   #9   02:19 pm Mar 29 2011

It's probably stating the bleedin' obvious, but tight bowling at the top of their innings will be crucial. CRUCIAL. If Dilshan in particular gets going, look out, but as the pool game showed, he can be frustrated out.

I agree that Styris has done little in the tournament so far to justify his automatic selection as a senior pro ahead of someone like Franklin (although that said, who doesn't shudder to see Franklin come in at 6, or God help us, 5?) - now is a good time for Billy Ray to remember those excellent world cup numbers he's had previously.

And B. McCullum OWES the team some big-game runs. That's a lot of pressure to put on the guy, but it's time to justify the superstar reputation he's had bestowed on him by the international cricket media based on some pretty infrequent performances (time to show the improved consistency in ODIs he's been excellently showing lately in tests). I'm not sure what his approach should be - sometimes it seems it's best for him to just go for the outrageous, but if he lost his leg stump in the second over trying to ramp Malinga's yorker, I'd probably be the first to swear at him. But it might still be better to try it than to bat "sensibly" and quickly offering a lame poke to the slips after a slow 10 or 15.

DBA   #10   02:31 pm Mar 29 2011

@Riccardo

you rasie a very good point. I'm not sure of the exact rules in relation to that but i would imagine that would be a joke and would make a mockery of the sub fielder rule


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