Finally, we get to the knockout stage of this World Cup. And a brief one too, with the finals scheduled for the 28th. The permutations and combinations have begun. Australia and Sri Lanka are the hot favourites to reach the finals, but no one can rule out the chances of the Black Caps or the Proteas. Both New Zealand and South Africa have lost by big margins to their semi-final opponents earlier in the tournament. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the past won't count, as the better team on the day will prevail.
New Zealand and Sri Lanka square it off at Sabina Park on Tuesday. Sri Lanka's bowling attack has performed well so far in the tournament and it remains to be seen if Lasith Malinga will play the crucial match after missing out in the last few games. Both teams received a drubbing at the hands of the Aussies in the Super Eight, and will be hoping to avenge the same by beating the Australians in the finals.
For New Zealand, Shane Bond will be the key. Bond has looked a bit jaded and missed out on the game against Australia. However, one doesn't know whether he was unfit or skipper Fleming was pulling a fast one in order to give some rest to his bowler apart from not wanting to play him against Australia. Sri Lanka would know, they too 'rested' Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan against the Aussies. Malinga didn't play that match as well. So, one things for sure, both these teams know who they facing in the finals.
It will be interesting to see how the Sri Lankans play the Kiwi spinners. Fleming must play his best bowlers and Bond, Jacob Oram, Jeetan Patel and Daniel Vettori fit in automatically. Scott Styris and Craig Mcmillan will also bowl, and so the toss-up will be between James Franklin and Mark Gillespie if the Kiwis play one more bowler. Franklin would bring a bit of variety into the attack, if he is consistent with his line that is.
The difference between winning and losing in this match could boil down to how the Kiwis handle Murali. Scott Styris needs to take charge in the middle and keep the Sri Lankan spinners at bay. This will be in all probability the more exciting of the two semi-finals.
Talking about exciting matches, the semi at St Lucia will be if the South Africans are up to the task. The Australian top-order has the likes of Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting, and it will take some effort to dislodge them from the crease. Even if they are, the Aussies have the Michaels - Clarke and Hussey, Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson to rely on.
South Africa will need Pollock to fire early on and perhaps should give Andre Nel the new ball. The South African middle-order will need to support their openers, and Justin Kemp has been a mere observer in the games he has played in. Perhaps the South Africans could ask him to do some pinch-hitting or play Loots Bosman. Maybe they could also bring in Makhaya Ntini which will give Smith an additional bowling option which may be needed if the Aussies get a good start as they have been accustomed to.
New Zealand v/s Sri Lanka
Tuesday, April 24
AKG: Sri Lanka
MJV: New Zealand
Match starts at 2000 IST on DD-1, SET MAX (English) and SAB TV (Hindi).
Australia v/s South Africa
Wednesday, April 25
AKG: South Africa
Match starts at 1900 IST on DD-1, SET MAX (English) and SAB TV (Hindi).