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April 23, 2007
Familiarity often breeds contempt, but in the case of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, it's also given rise to considerable mutual respect. Few teams know each other as well as these two, having played each other 14 times since Sri Lanka pulled off a 47-run victory at Bloemfontein during the last World Cup. New Zealand have edged it seven games to six, but the fact that 10 of those encounters were in the land of the long white cloud will give Sri Lanka plenty of confidence.
M&M: No, we're not talking about the chocolate candy, but Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga. Muralitharan has 64 wickets at 19.21 apiece from his 38 games against New Zealand, while Malinga's figures - eight wickets at 24.87 from six matches - don't really reflect the massive strides that he's made in recent times. "He keeps adding to his armoury every day," said Fleming when asked about Murali. "With experience, he's become a more savvy bowler."
Neutralising that threat will be half the job done, but New Zealand's top and lower order will also have to contend with Malinga's slingshots. The 90mph pace can be tricky at the best of times, and he'll certainly enjoy a Sabina Park pitch that has a bit more bounce than most in the Caribbean.
An old stager's last stand: Muralitharan isn't the only veteran desperate for another World Cup final appearance. After being run out for a duck at Napier in his first game against New Zealand 16 years ago, Sanath Jayasuriya has taken five centuries off them in 44 matches. The spongy bounce expected at Sabina Park could be to his liking, and a fusillade of strokes in the opening overs could utterly change the complexion of the match if it means the threat of Shane Bond being negated.
Fit and raring to go: Dilhara Fernando is available for selection after an ankle injury, and with Malinga also back in the fray, Farveez Maharoof could be the one to miss out. And though a vocal section back home would like to see the experienced Marvan Atapattu restored to the top of the order, the team management are almost certain to keep faith in Upul Tharanga. Muralitharan was being rubbed down by the physio after practice, but Jayawardene laughed off any suggestions that he was struggling. "He gets treatment all the time," he said with a grin.
Toning up the middle: Sri Lanka don't have too many big hitters in the middle order, but Chamara Silva, Russel Arnold and Tillakaratne Dilshan form a pretty handy combination. Silva has 308 runs in the competition, while Dilshan and Arnold have delivered sporadically. Stephen Fleming talked of "exposing that area", and with no Maharoof to launch a few into the stands, the trio will need to ensure that any start that Sri Lanka get isn't squandered.
Been there, done that: Chaminda Vaas, who has 48 wickets from 34 games against New Zealand, was part of the World-Cup winning squad in 1996, along with Muralitharan and Jayasuriya. With a repeat of that Lahore final against Australia looming, Jayawardene was confident that the experienced hands would make a difference. We've played more games, tougher games, and big games," he said. They won't come much bigger than this.
Likely XI: 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Russel Arnold, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Lasith Malinga.
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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