ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
World Cup 2011
A clash of contrasting bowling philosophies
The headline duel is between the bowling attacks of Australia and Sri Lanka, an expected battle between pace and spin and that is a relief, given how unkind Group B has been to bowlers
March 4, 2011
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Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
How straightforward Group A appears. Big teams beat little ones, jostle with each other for positions and off they go to the quarters. In contrast to Group B, where Ireland, England, Bangladesh and the West Indies have provided major palpitations, this group of non-death has moved along at a steady heartbeat, an occasional mild blip disturbing the quorum.
There's only been one real crackerjack game, last weekend's Pakistan-Sri Lanka encounter, and even that was soon eclipsed by two games at the Chinnaswamy. But Saturday's encounter at the Premadasa between Sri Lanka and Australia is a big game, even if it might be without grave consequence. That should, the hope is, free both sides to provide the kind of game they are eminently capable of: attractive, intense and tight.
The headline duel is between the bowling attacks of the sides, an expected battle between pace and spin and that is a relief. Group B games in India, riveting as they have been, have removed bowlers from the equation of cricket altogether, among the primary reasons the format is said to be struggling. Not so at the Premadasa, which, like a benevolent judge, has so far granted favour to those only who deserve it, be they batsmen, fast bowlers, spinners or otherwise.
Australia's reliance on pace is commendable, in a bulldozing kind of way because it goes against the supposed grain of subcontinent thinking. You wouldn't expect a former fast man of the pedigree of Waqar Younis to say otherwise, but there is merit even in his simple logic: most sides will have fast bowlers bowl 30 overs out of 50. Automatically their role is correspondingly important.
But in Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, Australia have as fiercely quick and penetrative a trio as any in this tournament. It isn't subtle and on off days each can become one-dimensional but it is relentless. With pace, that is often enough. Sri Lanka's batsmen, however, will provide their first real test.
The hosts are openly talking about playing three spinners and given how Australia have gone against spin in the warm-up games, the strategy has considerable merit. All angles are covered if Rangana Herath joins Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis. However, none of them are bursting with recent wickets and Mendis seems not to have moved on from 2008.
But runs will not come easy off them, specifically Muralitharan, as Pakistan found. Nervous glances at the scoreboard will become more frequent, the horns and drums will get louder, the fielders closer, the angles tighter, the overs quicker, the runs less forthcoming; death by Sri Lanka is a slow, drawn-out frenzy. Bear in mind, Australia haven't played an ODI in Sri Lanka, in this atmosphere, for just over seven years.
The subheads are equally, if not more, intriguing and invert the main battles. Lasith Malinga is back - a paceman fit to take his place among any company and, importantly, he is in rhythm. Ricky Ponting recognises the threat. In an earlier age, Jason Krejza would've been a king spinner. Today he is an anomaly, a spinner unafraid to buy wickets. He will like the surface, but the batsmen will be another matter altogether.
Ultimately, we should be grateful to Darrel Hair for giving contests between the two a little modern heat. Some locals feel there is still no sweeter victory than that which comes against the Australians. The World Cup is a fitting stage for it, having hosted semi-finals and finals between the two sides, as well as the forfeited game of 1996.
Australia have had the better of it (Sri Lanka are by no means alone in being on the losing end of a rivalry with Australia), having won six of seven games and none of them have been close. But that was a different Australia and, as Kumar Sangakkara noted, a different Sri Lanka. The last ODI series between the two, late last year, had a defining feel about it. There is the belief now of equality.
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