Australia v Sri Lanka, World Cup final, Barbados April 27, 2007

Numbers point to an Australian hat-trick

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Sanath Jayasuriya is key to Sri Lanka getting a good start, but he has struggled against Australia in general, and Nathan Bracken in particular © AFP

Their only encounter in the World Cup turned out to be a drab, one-sided washout with Sri Lanka resting key players, but that was only a Super Eights game, with nothing except pride at stake. On Saturday, with a whole lot more on the line, expect plenty more passion and fire from the Sri Lankans. If both teams play to potential, this match could even give us the classic last-over finish that this World Cup desperately needs.

The individual match-ups indicate each team has the firepower to test the other. However, recent ODIs between the two teams suggests another fairly straightforward victory for Australia - in 13 meetings since the last World Cup, Australia have won nine. In only three of those 13 games the victory margin has been less than 25 runs or four wickets, but Sri Lanka won the three times when the matches became close.

Not only have Australia been scarily dominant in this tournament, they've also turned the screw with chilling efficiency in their last two World Cup finals, turning both of them into no-contests very early in the piece.

So what will Sri Lanka need to pull off an upset win? For a start, they'll need conditions to be in their favour. The pitch in Barbados offered plenty of bounce and pace during the Super Eights games, which should suit the Australians perfectly: in 39 matches against Sri Lanka Australia, South Africa and England - venues which usually assist fast bowlers - Australia have won 32 and lost seven. (Click here for a summary of ODIs between these two teams.) Add to that Australia's dominance at neutral venues - seven wins, one defeat - and Sri Lanka have an uphill task. They might do well to remember, though, that their only victory in neutral territory was in a game as important as this one - the 1996 World Cup final at Lahore, which is also their only win in six World Cup clashes against Australia.

The table below further underscores how vital a factor the conditions could be: at home all the Australian batsmen have enjoyed themselves against Sri Lanka; when overseas they haven't all been as successful.

Aus batsmen v SL, at home and away
Batsman Home - ODIs Average, Strike rate Away - ODIs Average, Strike rate Diff in average, strike rate
Clarke 7 135.50, 110.61 6 21.20, 69.73 114.30, 40.88
Hayden 4 73.66, 89.11 9 30.87, 77.67 42.79, 11.44
Gilchrist 13 56.00, 111.48 12 30.50, 92.19 25.50, 19.29
Ponting 18 49.13, 82.16 14 51.66, 73.63 -2.53, 8.53
Symonds 9 43.57, 107.77 10 102.25, 82.29 -58.68, 25.48

The Sri Lankan batsmen, on the other hand, have generally struggled against Australia. Kumar Sangakkara has been the exception, but Sanath Jayasuriya, especially, has been a huge disappointment. In 42 games he has only five fifty-plus scores, and a poor average of 22.07.

Sri Lankan batsmen v Australia
Batsman Innings Runs Average Strike Rate
Kumar Sangakkara 20 787 43.72 73.48
Mahela Jayawardene 27 855 34.20 77.44
Russel Arnold 19 444 29.60 69.15
Sanath Jayasuriya 42 861 22.07 83.10
Tillakaratne Dilshan 13 203 18.45 75.74

Among the Australian bowlers, the focus will obviously be on the farewell-boy Glenn McGrath, but if past records are anything to go by Nathan Bracken is the one that Sri Lanka's batsmen will have to watch out for. In eight games against them, Bracken has taken 21 wickets at a fantastic average of 13.47, and an economy rate of less than four. It's unlikely the Sri Lankan batsmen would have forgotten what he's capable of - less than two weeks back, Bracken destroyed them with figures of 4 for 19 in 9.4 overs. Included among his victims was Jayasuriya, who has had an especially torrid time against him.

Australian bowlers v Sri Lanka
Bowler Matches Wickets Average Economy Rate
Nathan Bracken 8 21 13.47 3.94
Glenn McGrath 24 35 24.88 4.12
Brad Hogg 18 28 26.82 4.57
Andrew Symonds 19 14 46.42 5.04

Bracken v Jayasuriya in ODIs
Batsman Runs Dismissals Average Balls Runs/ over
Sanath Jayasuriya 23 3 7.67 36 3.83

As you'd expect Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan have taken lots of wickets against Australia, but they haven't come as cheaply as they usually do. Vaas concedes more than 35 per wicket, and even Murali's average touches 30. Significantly, the Australians have played Muralitharan pretty well recently. Since 2004, he averages 36 runs per wicket against them, and goes at nearly five per over. Included among those games was the VB Series final at Sydney in February 2006, when Murali was thrashed for 99 from ten overs, his most expensive ODI spell.

Sri Lanka's top two bowlers v Australia
Bowler Matches Wickets Average Economy Rate
Muttiah Muralitharan 32 46 29.84 4.45
Chaminda Vaas 36 43 35.32 4.89

Muralitharan has usually been the key to Sri Lanka's success during the middle overs, but the Australians in general - and Ponting in particular - have tackled him quite well.

Muralitharan v Australia since 2002
Batsman Innings Runs Dismissals Average Balls Runs/ 100 balls
Michael Hussey 7 38 0 - 43 88.37
Ricky Ponting 11 157 2 78.50 191 82.20
Michael Clarke 10 83 2 41.50 89 93.26
Andrew Symonds 14 158 5 31.60 170 92.94
Adam Gilchrist 5 72 2 36.00 91 79.12
Matthew Hayden 4 23 2 11.50 44 52.27

Form in the World Cup

Both Australia and Sri Lanka have had a strong tournament with both bat and ball, which is reflected in the next couple of tables. Sri Lanka's batting has been pretty good, but even they can't compare with what Hayden, Ponting and co. have achieved in this tournament. They have lost only 39 wickets in the ten games they have played, and their average runs per wicket in the first 40 overs touches 80. Even in the last ten, they are well ahead of Sri Lanka, who have lost 62 wickets in this tournament. The batting points clearly go to Australia, and the openers have played a huge role in that. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist have averaged 65.87 for the first wicket, which is almost twice the 33.10 that Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga have managed.

Australia & Sri Lanka with the bat in this World Cup
Team First 20 - Runs/ wkt Runs/ over 21-40 - Runs/ wkt Runs/ over 41-50 - Runs/ wkt Runs/ over
Australia 78.00 5.78 82.82 5.97 40.50 9.37
Sri Lanka 45.50 4.66 58.56 5.18 23.50 7.13

The bowling stats are a whole lot closer. Australia have taken 95 wickets to Sri Lanka's 87, but Sri Lanka have been as effective through the first 40 overs of matches, with Muralitharan being especially dangerous during the middle overs: between 21 and 40, he has taken 16 wickets at an average of 11.43 and an economy rate of 3.46. As the Numbers Game points out, Brad Hogg has run him close in the tournament, and he has been as effective in the middle overs too, taking 15 wickets at 13, and an economy rate of 3.63. The bowling attacks of both teams have been outstanding, suggesting that the batsmen might not have it their way on Saturday.

Australia & Sri Lanka with the ball in this World Cup
Team First 20 - Runs/ wkt Runs/ over 21-40 - Runs/ wkt Runs/ over 41-50 - Runs/ wkt Runs/ over
Australia 20.56 4.40 21.33 4.41 8.82 4.82
Sri Lanka 21.61 3.83 18.56 4.26 20.33 5.98

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo