Australia v Sri Lanka, Super Eights, Grenada April 16, 2007

Jayawardene defends resting stars

Mahela Jayawardene: "We wanted to make sure they didn't burn out before the key matches" © Getty Images

Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, has played down the decision to rest two of his team's key bowlers during their seven-wicket defeat to Australia. The former World Cup winners, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, were both omitted along with the injured spearhead Lasith Malinga, although Jayawardene insisted the decision had been taken for fitness reasons, rather than tactical ones.

"Those two guys have been playing throughout," Jayawardene said, "and Murali has had a problem with his groin as well - he played with a strap for the last two or three games. Once we realised we'd got the semi-final spot, we realised we needed to give these guys a break. Obviously they have had [fitness] problems over the last six to 12 months, so we had to give them a break in the best interests of the team."

After touring New Zealand at the end of last year, Vaas, 33, rested a sore hamstring during Sri Lanka's recent tour of India and also missed the team's warm-up matches against Scotland and New Zealand in Barbados. Murali, who turns 35 on Tuesday, has long operated in spite of a shoulder problem. "You have to play at 100% against Australia," Jayawardene said. "To play at 50 or 60% is no good for them or the team. We took the decision, but if you think that's a tactical thing, that's for you to think.

"Up to now we have taken every game very seriously, and this game too. We just had to make a team decision. Obviously Australia haven't [had a chance to see] Vaas and Murali, but we never thought about it like that. We purely wanted to make sure they didn't burn out before the key matches."

Jayawardene said the players could be rested again when they face Ireland on Wednesday. "If they want to have a go at Ireland - maybe it won't be that tough a game - they can easily come back into things," he said. "But if they feel they need another break we will give them one."

Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, said that he "didn't care" what tactics or otherwise Sri Lanka had used, but added that the decision to hide Muralitharan from his batsmen was a strange one. "That's one thing I don't understand," he said. "This was a good opportunity for him to have a crack at our batsmen, but it doesn't worry our batters at all.

"We have played him a lot, and we've got lots of footage on him, so we know the way he goes about things. We play him as well as anyone around the world anyway. This would have been a good opportunity for him to get stuck into us and take some wickets."

Ponting did not expect New Zealand to employ similar methods in the teams' final Super Eights game on Friday. "They'll want to beat us and we'll want to beat them," he said. "They've got a good record against us of late, having won the three games in New Zealand just before we came away.

"These sorts of conditions suit their game-plan. They've got guys who play spin bowling and slower bowling pretty well. They've got guys that take the pace off the ball and cut the ball a lot in their bowling options. We'd like to think we can improve in the New Zealand game, win it and go into the semis with a whole lot of momentum behind us."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo