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Rediff.com  » News » Sabina Park pitch may suit the Kiwis

Sabina Park pitch may suit the Kiwis

April 24, 2007 13:15 IST

Of course I am biased! I would be delighted if the 'Men-in-Black' take on the mighty green-and-gold of Australia at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, in Saturday's final and avenge their latest loss.

Yes, it is finally do-or-die time in the World Cup and after 48 matches the top four teams face off in the semi-finals.

The unexpected can happen, as was highlighted by the early exits of India and Pakistan, but the reality is that the four best teams according to the world rankings have made it to the semis, and that excites me.

Australia are the only team to have remained undefeated and are again rated the world's best.

South Africa are rated number two. New Zealand, who have just suffered a massive defeat against Australia, are rated third while Sri Lanka, a side for all occasions, are ranked equal fourth.

New Zealand play Sri Lanka at Sabina Park in Jamaica on Tuesday on a pitch which may suit the Kiwis as it should have some pace and bounce, assisting both their stroke-makers and their bowling attack.

This will be a revenge match for the Kiwis as Lanka easily defeated them in the Super Eights and also in the Champions Trophy last year in India. 

Having met on a regular basis over the last three years, these two teams know each other's game-plan very well. While overall results slightly favour the Kiwis, they will also know that mistakes will be costly. Being a sudden-death encounter, there is all to play for. This is what pressure is all about and the side that faces up best under these circumstances will be the one to contest the final.

On four previous occasions in the World Cup, New Zealand have reached the semis, but never the final.

It is a little unusual to see that we are talking ourselves up this time as we normally take a softer, low-key approach and are happy to keep the underdog tag. But I am delighted to hear the confidence that is buzzing through the team at present. However, we will need to pick ourselves up very quickly after suffering our biggest-ever ODI defeat at the hands of the Australians on Friday.

That loss may have done some serious damage to the team's morale and confidence. The coach, captain, support staff and players have a lot of soul-searching to do and a quick and efficient response against Sri Lanka is necessary, or the campaign is over.

Teamwork has been the key to the Kiwi successes to date. Stephen Fleming's captaincy has been outstanding and Shane Bond has bowled magnificently. Sanath Jayasuriya and Muthiah Muralitharan pose the biggest threat to New Zealand's hopes and must be countered. If we can succeed in thwarting this pair, then New Zealand should win.

Australia take on South Africa at St Lucia on Wednesday. The Proteas were well beaten by the world champions in their group match last month and will relish the opportunity to have another crack against the favourites.

Inevitably, the 1999 World Cup semi-final will be on the minds of the players when the match ended in a tie but Australia went through to the final.

Both teams have very experienced, quality players and this clash should be a close game, with the highlight being the 'battle of the in-form batsmen' -- Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting and Clarke vs Smith, de Villiers, Kallis and Gibbs.

The bowling duels are just as intriguing -- Tait, McGrath, Bracken and Hogg versus Pollock, Langeveldt, Nel, Hall and Kallis. 

On paper there is little between the two teams but the difference may be in the spin bowling. South Africa have not played spin well and Brad Hogg has bowled superbly, with his "wrong-un" difficult to read.

South Africa may opt not to play their spinner, Robin Petersen, and stick to an all-out seam attack which could be too predictable with their lack of variation. This will suit the Aussie batsmen who like the ball coming onto the bat, enabling them to play their shots.

All in all, an intriguing two days of cricket lie ahead.

-- Distributed by GE Features

Previous columns:
• Who are we to decide Tendulkar's fate?
• A strong India is good for world cricket
• Sri Lanka continue to be a threat
• Form favours Australia
• Will India be bold enough to play two spinners?
• Time for a new world champion
• Captains need to be more aware

Sir Richard Hadlee