History beckons the team from Down Under. In 2003, they were the first team to win three World Cups. Tomorrow, they will have the opportunity to win their third consecutive title, an achievement that will drive home the point even to the greatest of their detractors that this is by-far the best team of all-time.
Dad' Army they were called before the tournament began. Maybe the cool and pristine surroundings in the Caribbean rejuvenated the lot. The statistics speak for themselves. Glenn Mcgrath and Matthew Hayden may be 37 and 35 respectively, but they seem to be enjoying the best form of their ODI career, topping the batting and bowling charts with ease.
If Australia achieves the feat, then skipper Ricky Ponting, vice-captain and 'keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist and McGrath will the first players to have won the tournament thrice (as players that is). But they face a tough nemesis in Sri Lanka, whose coach Tom Moody will also be looking forward to a third triumph. Moody was part of the Australian sides in 1987 and 1999; in the latter he played alongside Ponting, Gilchrist and McGrath.
Australia would have already accomplished the hat-trick of wins had the Lankans not beaten them in 1996. On the Lankan side, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Marvan Atapattu remain from that victorious squad. The Aussies may not have bitter memories though, since the only players in the team today are Ponting and McGrath - two players who have gone on to achieve many greater glories in international cricket.
Sri Lanka go into the finals with an equal chance of winning, as their bowling attack is on par if not more potent than Australia's. The way Lasith Malinga bowled on Tuesday was phenomenal, and it remains to be seen how he comes up against a formidable Aussie top-order, if he can repeat the perfromance that is. Muttiah Muralitharan is the key player. Last time when these teams met, Sri Lanka rested Malinga, Murali and Vaas. Sri Lanka failed to defend the score of 226 that they had put up. However, with the trio back, any score near that one would make for a compelling final. But the Lankans could be put on the back foot if Hayden attacks Vaas and Farveez Maharoof, who may get the nod ahead of the struggling Dilhara Fernando.
The Sri Lankan batting has looked shaky, but skipper Mahela Jayawardene will be the man that McGrath and Co. will be gunning for, apart from the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya. Last time around, the Aussies bowlers had Sri Lanka on the mat at 27-3, but Jayawardene and Chamara Silva led a fightback and the Lankans would have been disappointed not to have scored more than 250.
For the Lankans, middle-order bat Chamara Silva has played in this World Cup at the expense of the experienced Marvan Atapattu. Interestingly, Atapattu was also on the bench during Sri Lanka's 1996 winning campaign. A lucky charm? But then no other cricket team in the world has debunked charms, horoscopes and other myths as nonchalantly as this Australian side has.
Australia v/s Sri Lanka
Saturday, April 28
AKG: Sri Lanka
Match starts at 1900 IST on DD-1, SET MAX (English) and SAB TV (Hindi).