ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Sri Lanka v New Zealand, 1st semi-final, World Cup 2011, Colombo

Usual suspects rise to the occasion again

Between them, New Zealand and Sri Lanka have made seven semi-final appearances in five World Cups since 1996. When the whole world is watching, they raise their game a notch

Sidharth Monga in Colombo

March 28, 2011

Comments: 34 | Text size: A | A

Nathan McCullum and Mahela Jayawardene exchanged words after the catch that wasn't, New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Group A, World Cup 2011, Mumbai, March 18, 2011
Two familiar names are in the final four once again © Getty Images

The World Cup does something to these two teams, two teams that are not financial drawcards in an immensely closed-world cricket family. It does something wonderful to them, for they keep putting in inspired performances at world events, and often feature in the last two or three matches of these tournaments. Between them, New Zealand and Sri Lanka have made seven semi-final appearances in five World Cups since 1996, the year when Sri Lanka announced themselves as world-beaters. In the last five World Cups, New Zealand have missed the final four only in 1996 and 2003, and Sri Lanka in 1999. This is the second successive World Cup semi-final they are playing against each other; hardly ever are they miserable in other world events either. Except for Australia, no other big team has that good a record over the last 15 years.

While the other bigger teams are often at the risk of being bogged down by expectations, or jaded and tired thanks to their tight schedules, or in certain cases not good enough, Sri Lanka and New Zealand often find their best cricket in World Cups, playing freely and purposefully. When the whole world is watching, they raise their game a notch; in New Zealand's case, against much stronger opposition.

There is often a message to be sent out. At least for Sri Lanka, who are still not considered a big team by many accounts. For England, Australia and South Africa, they are still the sideshows; whenever they invite Sri Lanka for a home series, it is usually before or after the main event of their home seasons, in a slot that is otherwise kept for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. It is not that there is some discussion in Sri Lankan team meetings to this effect, but the feeling remains among the team.

Mahela Jayawardene agrees. "What I see is we have produced some extraordinary players," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Yes, maybe we haven't got the recognition, which is true. But it hasn't deterred us or disappointed us. We have played consistent cricket for the last 15 years, ever since 1996; 1999 was probably the only time we didn't do ourselves justice, but since 1996 everyone who has played for Sri Lanka has played with a lot of pride and passion. We have carried that through." He agrees to there being the extra motivation at world events. That while their other good performances can go unnoticed, on the world stage they get the attention they deserve.

New Zealand's rising to such occasions is perhaps a bit more complex. They cannot claim to have enjoyed the kind of natural talent Sri Lanka do. They have a limited pool of players to draw from, which is further crippled by recurring injuries to some of their best talent. Except for 1992, when they became a threat only once Martin Crowe's team started dominating in the league stage, they have never been favourites. As cricketers, they seem to like it when nobody gives them a chance, when people have to be proved wrong.

And they don't get to the semi-finals by just winning one knockout game, as the argument this time may be. In 1999 and in 2007, they went through rigorous league stages and Super Sixes / Eights and were genuinely one of the four best teams over those World Cups. Even in this World Cup, they beat Pakistan in the league stages, the only team other than New Zealand to have beaten two title contenders so far. Leading into this World Cup, though, New Zealand were sleepwalking through whitewashes at the hands of Bangladesh and India, at venues the World Cup would be played at.

Somehow, as they have done in the past, New Zealand have found enough fire and will to make their sixth semi-final in 10 World Cups. There is nothing tangible that explains the transformation. Yes, the coach has changed, but to put it all down to John Wright and Allan Donald would be to do injustice to the players who have put recent disappointments behind them. As Daniel Vettori said, "Look, John [Wright] has been fantastic for us. The players took the blame for those losses, and I think they should get credit for the wins as well. It has to be a combination of the two."

Tomorrow one of these proud teams will bow out. It is a stage that should ideally get the best out of them. Sri Lanka once again will want the world to look at them when everybody is so engrossed in the other semi-final that they have to request journalists at press conferences to refrain from asking questions about the India-Pakistan game. New Zealand have even more people to prove wrong, for once again they are massive underdogs. More so than against South Africa, because Sri Lanka are likely to neither relent nor break. And they are at home.

Whatever the result be, it is good to see the unusual usual suspects in the final four once again.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 34 
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Posted by Cricinfouser on (March 29, 2011, 12:42 GMT)

All this talk of Sri Lanka not been offered longer series against the traditional big three is interesting, because it seems to be regarding TEST cricket. As far as one dayers go, I think in recent times England and Australia have been quite fair in the home series they have scheduled against Sri Lanka. If Sri Lanka want to have longer Test series in England, Australia and South Africa then perhaps they should win in these countries. How many Test series have they won in England? None. How many in Australia? None. How many in South Africa? None. Is it any wonder...

Posted by Antony on (March 29, 2011, 12:12 GMT)

MALINGA is no use, SL made mistake take him for Semi....he is not atleast average...Kulasekara much better option.....Malinga just show off....not consistant.......SL going to loose bcoz of Malinga.....heheheh......

Posted by Avery on (March 29, 2011, 11:13 GMT)

Thank you for paying some respect to the forgotten teams of the top 8. Should be a good match.

Posted by Eshwar on (March 29, 2011, 8:33 GMT)

If you people like Sri Lanka, praise it. Don't take a dig at other countries just because the author felt that SL were cold shouldered by bigger nations. There are factors bigger than cricket which makes those decisions and the cricket itself is not being played just for cricketing factor. No player plays for free, no country hosts for free. It is too difficult to place all countries on an even keel. If SL and NZ are performing better, their respective boards have to do something to create more interest in public and find ways for better revenue. Bitching about other nations will not take anyone anywhere.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 29, 2011, 8:30 GMT)

the indians wants lions to loose this match.....lol i dont see it coming indians

Posted by Randika on (March 29, 2011, 8:25 GMT)

Weldon Sid Monga, again! Good article with some analytical insights.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 29, 2011, 8:23 GMT)

It's quite an interesting point , that in spite of India's money , the game of cricket is still ruled by Australia and England. Periodically , the BCCI throw their huge money weight behind some cause and win it. But it still remains, that the BCCI have to OPPOSE to make their power known. It always creates a stir. England, Australia and to a lesser extent, South Africa quietly go about their business and England particularly, nearly always gets its way. This is the old power stranglehold that will always be there. Sri Lanka are comparatively new entrants, Sri Lanka's population is less than even Australia's and they are a subcontinent team. They don't offer the market that India/Pakistan offer , they cannot bulldoze their way into prominence. They and New Zealand must continue to put in strong performances and embarrass the Aus, SA and company for a sustained period. Then we might see a change.

Posted by Dru on (March 29, 2011, 8:05 GMT)

Interesting that the so called big teams get the big ticket while these two rather back seat sides keep playing in ICC finals events. If you look back SA have not made a single final while Eng are yet to win it. Ind have won it in 83' with Aus being the worthy of the big ticket. I guess the reason is the ICC events are just once off knock out which is not really a reflection of the quaility of a team and SA is the best example. In test both these teams are ususally a non-event and besides doing well at home they hardly make an impact outside home to warrant a big ticket.

Posted by Arshad on (March 29, 2011, 7:59 GMT)

I genuinely think kiwis will win with their "kiwi fight" spirit. Lankans only have the home advantage : apart from it, I see none!

Posted by Tania on (March 29, 2011, 7:41 GMT)

Sl are lucky like in 96 to be semis..lost to gr8 Pak,rain saved them against Aus.Beat only NZ and tiring Eng without their main players...

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