Sri Lanka approaching top gear
Sunday, June 14
Start time 1330 local (1230 GMT)
There are signs that Sri Lanka are beginning to find the sort of form which makes them so dangerous in one-day cricket. South Africa and India may have started as pre-tournament favourites, but Sri Lanka's 19-run win over Pakistan contained plenty in it to suggest they're about to hit their straps. Tillakaratne Dilshan scorched 46 from 39 to give them another flying start, an innings which contained his absurdly audacious flip-flick over the wicketkeeper's head. The last time they met Pakistan, they were airlifted by helicopter gunship. That they overcame the emotion spoke volumes of the character and belief that exists in this side, two factors which ought to help them cruise into the semi-finals.
The one major concern, however, is their middle order which sustained a horrid collapse of 5 for 40 in the last six overs. It didn't cost them against Pakistan, thanks to Lasith Malinga's deadly death-bowling, but it is one area that needs improvement if they are to beat firstly Ireland, then New Zealand.
Ireland, on the other hand, might have already peaked. They had long targeted the game against Bangladesh as their most likely chance for an upset; so comprehensive was their victory that it's almost unfair to describe it as such. Yet they were given a rude awakening a couple of days later when New Zealand, injuries and all, knocked them flat by 83 runs. The allround ability of Kevin O'Brien has impressed and surprised many, while Trent Johnston and Kevin's brother, Niall, remain class acts who could yet make it difficult for Sri Lanka. But the lack of experience playing against such a seasoned and powerful team, gradually moving into top gear, ought to be a test too far for Ireland.
Equally, Sri Lanka must do a New Zealand on Ireland and give them a thumping, not just a timid slap of the wrists.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWWLW
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The two tweaking Ms: Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis. Mendis exposed Australia's frailties against spin, but another M, Malinga, tops the wicket-takers' table with 8 at 12.25. Murali has yet to really fire, but both he and Mendis should prove a handful against Ireland, whose inexperience against such unorthodoxy should dumbfound them. With Malinga in such electric form, Sri Lanka just need their champion spinner or his deputy to reach top form to sweep Ireland aside.
Kevin O'Brien suffered against New Zealand with bat and ball, but he did take a fine, low catch at deep square-leg to dismiss Scott Styris. He has spent much of his career in the shadow of his brother, Niall, but is a savage hitter at No.5 and his tidy seam - as long as he pitches it up - is much underrated.
It seems inconceivable Sri Lanka will make any changes, barring a late injury, while Ireland ought to welcome back Boyd Rankin, bizarrely rested for their last game.
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk, capt), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Jehan Mubarak, 6 Chamara Silva, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Ajantha Mendis, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan
Ireland: (probable) 1 William Porterfield (capt), 2 Gary Wilson, 3 Niall O'Brien (wk), 4 Andre Botha, 5 Kevin O'Brien, 6 John Mooney, 7 Alex Cusack, 8 Trent Johnston, 9 Kyle McCallan, 10 Regan West, 11 Boyd Rankin
Stats and trivia (as of June 13)
- Tillakaratne Dilshan is the second-leading run-scorer in the tournament behind Jacques Kallis
- Lasith Malinga tops the wickets with 8 at 12.25, though has yet to take more than three wickets in an innings
"I'd like to thank them for putting up with me all these years."
Ireland's unflappably cheery manager, Roy Torrens, reacts to the news of being awarded an OBE for services to cricket
"We won't take any game lightly, it is just another game and it is important for us to beat Ireland at this stage to qualify for the semi-finals."
Brendon Kuruppu, Sri Lanka's team manager, insists his side will be focussed
Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo