Sri Lanka look to come out guns blazing
The last time these two teams met, the match lasted only slightly longer than The Pirates of the Caribbean. It may have been an inconsequential qualifying game, with both sides assured of a place in the Champions Trophy, but West Indies were utterly humiliated on a lively Brabourne Stadium pitch. Farveez Maharoof was the bowling star that day with 6 for 14, and Sri Lanka waltzed past the target of 81 in just 13.2 overs.
Tom Moody, who oversaw that demolition job as coach, certainly isn't reading too much into the result. "We will take nothing out of that match, considering these are completely different conditions and situations," he said. "The only advantage we will take is a psychological one."
His wards will also be helped by the fact that West Indies' campaign has gone from brimful-of-promise to laced-with-intrigue in the space of a week. Demoralising defeats to Australia and New Zealand have left them in a situation where defeat on Sunday could conceivably mean the end of the road.
"I'm not sure what the morale is like in the West Indies camp but if it is down, we'll try to take advantage of it," said Moody. "They have come off two losses, so this is a big game for them. But it's equally as big for us. We're going in there all guns blazing, hoping to play our A game to get two points on the board in this stage of the competition.
There's certainly a healthy respect for a team that Sri Lanka have beaten only once in five World Cup matches dating back to 1975. "The West Indies are a very good side with lots of proven match-winners," said Moody. "They've shown that they're a side that can win competitions and beat big teams in tournaments. Given that they're under pressure, this is the time they will probably come up and play their best games. So, we've got to make sure we're on our guard."
On a pitch that was expected to favour them, Sri Lanka were largely outplayed by South Africa, and Moody admitted that poor top-order batting had undermined his team's chances. At the same time, he was certain that the decision to bat first had been the right one.
"We felt this wicket was going to get slower and lower, and turn," he said. "It suits our bowlers in the middle of the innings. But unfortunately, through some good play by Kallis and Smith, they took the initiative in the first 20 overs. We didn't have enough runs really to defend, and for our spinners to have an impact."
The batting debacle started at the top, with Mahela Jayawardene's wretched run continuing against Charl Langeveldt. "Mahela has been digging deep for some runs," said Moody. "Now is a good time for your top order to be peaking and there could be nothing better than the captain to lead from the front. He's a very fine player and hopefully he'll play that match-winning knock against West Indies."
That Sri Lanka even made a match of it against South Africa was down to a 98-run partnership between Tillakaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold, after disciplined bowling and some inspired fielding had reduced them to 98 for 5.
"We know that we really only competed in about 30 per cent of the game," said Moody. "It was only a brilliant spell of four balls that made it look a lot closer than it was. We know that we didn't bat as well as we could have upfront."
Those four wickets came from Lasith Malinga, whose slinging action and variations in pace were almost too much for South Africa's lower order. But even there, Moody was of the opinion that there was much room for improvement. "A bowler like Malinga, you've just got to let him go," he said. "He's a match-winner. If you look at it realistically, he bowled poorly for six overs in that match, but came back and bowled well for three.
"We're working on those six overs now and bottling the confidence of the three overs he bowled well at the end. He knows he was far from having a complete match as a bowler."
As for what sets Malinga apart from others, Moody just smiled and said, "Everything". "He has a very unique action, a unique hairstyle [laughs] and he's unique in that he bowls at 90 miles an hour and is about 5ft, 7in. He's just one of these unique bowlers that tend to crop up in the world of sport. We tend to get a few in Sri Lanka.
"This guy is a little bit different. He has come through the system of playing tennis-ball cricket, and hence his exaggerated lower-arm action. Thankfully, in the process of him going to the international level people haven't mucked about too much with his action. They have left him to be as natural a possible. He's reaping the benefits and so is the team."
Moody brushed aside suggestions that Sri Lanka may have peaked too early - "Australia have peaked for about 15 years, haven't they?" he said with a laugh - and was unconcerned by the fact that there might be a full house at the new stadium in Providence to cheer on West Indies.
"I'm sure there's going to be a rally of support for the West Indies, but the crowd can't go out there and score runs or take wickets," he said. "At the end of the day, we'll just be concentrating on making sure that we get our processes right and play the cricket that we know we can play."
If they do, the hometown dream could well be a nightmare by Sunday evening.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo