Colombo, March 28 (IANS) Beating Sri Lanka in their own backyard is a tall order for any team, and New Zealand are well aware that they can
ill-afford to be slipshod in the effort to make their first World Cup final in their sixth attempt.
Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions, would be looking to reach their second consecutive World Cup final, having gone down to Australia in the Caribbean four years ago.
Historically, this has been the most difficult stage for New Zealand. They have lost in the semifinal five times.
They were beaten by Sri Lanka in the last World Cup, the latest being in the group game in Mumbai 10 days ago.
They came to the World Cup with not much of a hope but with good cricketing brains — John Wright as coach and South Africa’s legendary fast bowler Allan Donald as bowling consultant — to motivate them.
New Zealand have taken time to warm up in the tournament, but now they appear well settled.
After losing to Australia and Sri Lanka at the group stage, their campaign was back on the rails after thrashing Pakistan by 110 runs. Ross Taylor and Jacob Oram played big roles in reviving them and their upset 49-run win over South Africa in the quarter-final has has given them fresh hope.
“This team wants to make history and go one step further by making it to the final. We genuinely believe that we can do that Tuesday,” Taylor said.
For that to happen, New Zealand will have to play their cards intelligently and show more consistency in their batting.
Taylor, who slammed 131 against Pakistan, has scored 288 runs in the tournament. Brendon McCullum (243 runs) is another key batsman at the top of the order.
Jesse Ryder regained his touch against South Africa, scoring 83. With Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, Nathan McCullum, Jacob Oram and captain Daniel Vettori to follow, New Zealand batting line up looks pretty strong on paper.
They will have to handle spin well and keep the pressure on Sri Lanka. They cannot allow to let slip any advantage like England did in the quarterfinal by failing to capitalise on winning a crucial toss.
In Vettori and Nathan McCullum, who took three wicket against South Africa, they have two good spinners. Tim Southee (15 wickets) is one of the leading pacers in the tournament and has been well supported by Oram (12 wickets). Oram was also the Man of of the Match against South Africa with figures of 4/39.
Sri Lanka went into the quarterfinal against England with three spinners in Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath and are expected to retain the combination.
Muralitharan exposed chinks in New Zealand batting in Mumbai with four for 25 and the Black Caps will again have to see off his threat as the off-spinner could be more dangerous on his home ground.
Apart from the dropped chances, Sri Lanka’s performance against England was domineering. Of course, England at one stage looked good to cross the 250-run mark. But Sri Lanka pulled things back in the batting Powerplay.
Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga were ruthless against the English attack. Both the openers scored unbeaten centuries as Sri Lanka raced to a 10-wicket victory. The two have already been involved in two double century partnerships, the first one being against Zimbabwe.
The untested middle order could pose a problem if exposed, but captain Kumar Sangakkara has full faith in their abilities.
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (captain/wicketkeeper), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dilhara Fernando, Rangana Herath, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Thisara Perera, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva and Upul Tharanga.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), James Franklin, Martin Guptill, Jamie How, Brendon McCullum (wicketkeeper), Nathan McCullum, Andy McKay, Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Scott Styris, Ross Taylor, Daryl Tuffey, Kane Williamson and Luke Woodcock.
Umpires: Steve Davis (Australia) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan)
Third umpire: Marias Erasmus (South Africa)
Match referee: Chris Broad (England)