Saturday, April 2, 2011

Can Srilanka upset the apple-cart?

For the last two  months, I haven't been able to follow cricket as much as I would have liked to as I have been extremely busy.With passions running high what with about 1.2 billion Indian fans cheering Indian team as well as about 20 million Lankan fans cheering the Lankan Lions I surely can't miss out on action. So, just in time before the final, I decided to write an article on the match.

If I have to think of the big final between India and Srilanka, it is obvious to any cricket fan that India are the favourites going into the match as they have a balanced team and they are playing in their own den. Srilanka are a tough unit to beat in subcontinent, but thankfully for India, the match isn't played in Srilanka as for me with the demise of Australian team, there is nothing tougher than beating Srilanka in Srilanka.

So what are the chances of Srilanka upsetting the applecart and holding the World Cup trophy for the second time around? There is no denying the fact that Lankan Lions have a good side, but somehow if I look at the side I get the feeling that they lack the depth, especially in their batting to challenge the might of the  Indian team.

On the basis of whatever little action I have been able to catch, it is crystal clear that Srilanka have depended heavily on Tharanga and Dilshan at top of the order. Sanga has been on expected lines  consistent throughout this World Cup, but the stylish batsman from Emerald Isle Jayawerdena has been short of runs. The injury to Mathews is obviously a big blow to the Lankan side as under pressure he is as cool as a cucumber. I just love the way he plays cricket, especially when he bats as he is a  effortless striker of the ball.

If I think about Lanka's opening pair of Tharanga and Dilshan from Srilanka's point of view I do hope that Tharanga would be a bit more cautious and not look at throwing his bat at anything that is outside the off-stump against Zaheer. Zaheer is easily one of the best in the business against lefties as unlike say Nehra,  he can swing it both ways  and can bowl clever changes of pace. It is applicable to Dilshan as well as he too loves to just have a crack at anything that is slightly outside the off-stump. Here I firmly believe that it isn't just Nehra, but even Munaf is the man that Lanka should look to target. Yes, I realise that Munaf has bowled reasonably well in this WC and the slower delivery he bowled to Razzaq showed that he isn't an one trick pony, but I still feel that he is a bit predictable and if Lanka can go after him, it can put pressure on the spinners. Of course, there is a good chance of Dhoni going for the extra spinner and open the bowling with the off-spinner Ashwin. The option of opening the bowling with Ashwin though may backfire on Dhoni, as both Tharanga and Dilshan are very good against spinners.

Lanka's biggest worry has obviously been Mahela's lack of form. A cricket connoiseur would love to watch a graceful player like Mahela bat for a long-time. The key point to consider here though is, the track at Bombay tends to help spinners and Mahela is extremely good against spin bowling. Of course, Sanga is always key to Lanka's chances in the middle-order, but on spinning tracks I also rate Mahela very highly. Samaraweera can be another vital cog in Lanka's middle order as he bats very low and plays late which helps S'weera to counter spin effectively. Thilan is also good under pressure as we saw in the match against the Kiwis, when he was able to help Lanka overhaul the target set by the Kiwis by playing well under pressure.

With Mathews out of the side, Lanka would likely select the reserve batsman Kapugudera. Sorry, I have never been a fan of Kapu because even after playing for more than five years, he hasn't been able to kick on in his career and seems to have a frail temperament.

If I am the captain, I would likely go for Parera. Yes, it is a gamble as it can weaken the batting, but the counter argument can be Kapugudera isn't a good enough batsman. The reason I feel Parera can do well is because from little bit of knowledge I have about the wicket at Wankhade Mumbai, it tends to stop on the batsmen. Parera is a skiddy bowler who can surpise the batsmen for a bit of pace and has got clever changes of pace up his sleeve. My gut feeling is, he is the right sort of bowler for a wicket like Wankhade Mumbai. As a batsman Parera has limited range of shots, but if it is in his zone Parera can tonk the ball over the mid-wicket for huge sixes. Just think of the huge six he hit at Perth last year in a T/20 game against Australia. Sanga shouldn't even mind using Parera as a floater and send him up the order, especially if Lanka are chasing a sizeable total.

Srilanka's bowling is suited to a track like Mumbai as they have plenty of slow bowlers, but Sanga perhaps would have liked a bounce bowler in his team. The fact is, when the pitch tends to be a bit up and down and stops on the batsmen a bounce bowler can get more unpredictable bounce. Now, it doesn't mean that Lanka should pick a bounce bowler like say Fernando as he is just not good enough to play at this level. Sanga can even look at opening the bowling with Mendis as that can surprise the Indian openers. Having said that in recent times Indian batsmen have dominated Mendis and because of that fact he may not even play in the match.  It would also be the last game the legend Murali will play and hopefully a champion bowler like him can do well, though his injury would surely hamper him.

A team like Srilanka is expected to field well as they are a good fielding side. If not anything else, I am sure that Lankan Lions won't field as bad as they did against England in the Quarter Final.

Pitch Conditions

As I have already said that I haven't been able to catch much of the World Cup action, but from past experience of watching games at Bombay, I can definitely say that pitch will have something in it for all types of bowlers. Due to humidity factor, swing  bowlers can get some help. Here one can remember Damien Fleming's match winning spell in the 96 WC or Anderson's six wicket haul in a test match in 06. As the wicket can be a bit up and down, the seamers who hit the deck can get more uneven bounce.The spinners will definitely come into play as the wicket has never come across as a hard wicket and the colour of soil is usually red. So, spinners can get grip on the ball and uneven bounce. Any team that bats first would feel that they have the advantage as later on in the match it would likely help the spinners.

Final Words

Being a cricket connoisseur, I do hope that the great man SRT can get his 100th hundred in international cricket, but somehow I just love it when the favourites before the match lose and the underdogs cause an upset. Now, Lankan Lions aren't exactly  underdogs a they have a fine team, but going into the match they are definitely not the favourites.

For inspiration Sanga can look no further than the amazing victory Lanka achieved under the astute leadership of Ranatunga  at home of Indian cricket Kolkota and for struggling Mahela, he can think of his great knock in the World Cup Semifinal against the Kiwis in the 07 WC.

 I just hope that it would be a edge of the seat nail biting contest and may the best team win!!!

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