Daring to dream (again)

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.

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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!"

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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.

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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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