Plenty to prove for Fleming and Bond
A win for New Zealand will assure them of a place in the semi-finals, while Sri Lanka - with two points fewer in the kitty but a game against Ireland coming up later - will be almost through as well if they put it across New Zealand in a crucial Super Eights encounter in Grenada. Recent form gives New Zealand the edge: not only have they not lost a single match so far in this World Cup, they also have a 7-5 advantage in their last 13 matches against Sri Lanka. The catch, though, is that ten of those 13 games were played in New Zealand, in conditions which were quite different to what is likely to be on offer in Grenada. Overall, New Zealand have won 34 and lost 28 of the 66 one-day internationals between the two teams, while in World Cups New Zealand have won three out of five.
Struggling for runs
Sanath Jayasuriya has plundered 1423 runs against New Zealand, the most by any batsman from either side. However, none of the Sri Lankan batsmen have outstanding records against New Zealand - in fact Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, the main men for Sri Lanka in the middle order, have fairly ordinary stats.
The numbers are similar for the New Zealand batsmen. Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, Stephen Fleming and Brendon McCullum all average more than 50 in this World Cup but their overall record against Sri Lanka isn't half as good. Fleming, especially, has struggled, averaging less than 20 from 31 matches, with only two half-centuries. The batsman who has bucked that trend is Peter Fulton - in eight innings against them he has scored a hundred and two half-centuries, for an impressive average of 57.
The Vaas and Murali factor
Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas are again the star peformers for Sri Lanka against New Zealand. Murali has taken 61 wickets in 37 matches at an average of 19.63 and an economy rate of 3.54. Vaas's 45 wickets have cost him 22.91 apiece, at less than four runs per over. As the tables below indicate, both have superb records against Fleming, which explains to a large extent why he has such a poor record against Sri Lanka. Against Murali he has been dismissed twice in 16 balls, but he has rarely survived Vaas's opening burst, falling to him six times in 95 balls since July 2001 - and nine times in all ODIs - scoring just 40 runs off him. Clearly, Jayawardene will expect an early strike or two when Vaas runs in with new ball in hand.
Sri Lanka's openers, on the other hand, have done pretty well against New Zealand's main strike bowler, Shane Bond. Tharanga hasn't fallen to him even once in 108 deliveries, while Jayasuriya has scored at more than a run a ball in the 54 deliveries he has faced from him. In fact, Jayasuriya and Tharanga average 62.50 for the first wicket against New Zealand, with two century stands in six innings. With Bond in exceptional form and Tharanga struggling for runs, though, it might be a different story on Thursday.
Bond's overall record against Sri Lanka is pretty impressive, however - 14 wickets at an average of less than 24. Daniel Vettori, though, has struggled for wickets against a bunch of batsmen who play spin very well: in 24 games he has only managed 18 wickets at an average of nearly 45.