Match FactsMarch 29, Colombo
Start time 1430 hours (0900 GMT)
The Big Picture
In the months leading up to the World Cup, New Zealand had traipsed through the subcontinent, copping defeat after defeat: they failed to make the final of a tri-series in Sri Lanka, were hammered 5-0 in India, and between those two beatings they were humiliated in Bangladesh, where they lost 4-0. "We played like d****, really," Mark Greatbatch had fumed. They then lost a one-day series 3-2 at home to Pakistan. New Zealand were fortunate, it was said, to be pooled in Group A, from which qualification for the quarter-finals was straightforward. And after the hammerings they suffered against Australia and Sri Lanka, almost no one gave Daniel Vettori's working-class boys a chance in the first knockout against well-oiled, on-top-of-their-game South Africa.
Here they are, though, the only non-Asian team in the final four: a country with a population about a third of Mumbai's making the World Cup semi-finals for the sixth time, aiming to reach its maiden final. To get there, however, New Zealand will need to discover a higher gear than the one they used to upset South Africa. Their bowling will need to be as disciplined, their fielding as tenacious, their catching as game-changing, but their batsmen will have to do more. They laboured to 221 against South Africa. Sri Lanka possess cannier bowlers, experts at exploiting the home advantage, and their openers chased down England's 229, inside 40 overs. New Zealand have struggled against spin and they are unlikely to receive from Sri Lanka the generosity Pakistan showed in Pallekele. When New Zealand played their group match against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, they lost by 112 runs. That Wankhede pitch didn't turn that much either. Their batsmen will have to find a method to score more abundantly against a quality spin-heavy attack, and negotiate Lasith Malinga as well. The odds are heavily against them once again. Very few expect them to win. It is perhaps when New Zealand are most dangerous.
Sri Lanka will have prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. They would have prepared to face South Africa and hoped to play New Zealand instead. It is a semi-final, though, with no room for large errors, and having watched New Zealand intimidate and hustle South Africa out of the tournament, Sri Lanka will not expect anything less than all-out assault from their opponents. Mahela Jayawardene said as much.
On paper, Sri Lanka have this covered: a bowling attack with three specialist spinners and one part-timer (they bowled 35 overs against England), a fast bowler who is virtually unhittable when he bowls with the old ball, and an in-form top order. They, however, need to guard against two dangers. The openers, along with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, must ensure that the untested middle order doesn't have too much to do, and their fielding needs significant improvement. Sri Lanka uncharacteristically dropped three catches during their quarter-final. Perhaps it was the pressure, and there will be plenty of that on Tuesday.
Form guide(completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WLWWW
Sri Lanka WWWWL
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New Zealand's fielding: Jacob Oram took a catch perhaps only he could have, and Martin Guptill ran out one of the fastest men in cricket, to swing the quarter-final against South Africa. New Zealand's fielders were incredible in that game, diving to cut off singles in the infield, chasing balls at furious pace, and performing tag-team saves on the boundary to allow two, where ordinarily there might have been three or four. They made their bowlers look better than they were. It's one discipline at which New Zealand will look to maximize their advantage over Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka's top order: Tillakaratne Dilshan has 394 runs in this World Cup. His opening partner Upul Tharanga has 363. So does Kumar Sangakkara. They are among the top five run-scorers of the tournament and have done most of the batting for Sri Lanka. Mahela Jayawardene, who bats at No. 4, has 200 runs. No one else has even a 100. That's how little the middle-order batsmen have had to do, largely because of a lack of substantial opportunity but also because it is Sri Lanka's biggest weakness. New Zealand will go extremely hard at the top four, for exposing the middle order early is their best chance of making the final.
Muttiah Muralitharan is striving to recover from two injuries. He hurt his knee during the group match against New Zealand on March 18 and strained his quadriceps in the quarter-final two days ago. If he is fit to play the semi-final, Sri Lanka will not think ahead to the final and rest him.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Silva, 6 Thilan Samaraweera, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Lasith Malinga, 9 Muttiah Muralitharan / Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Ajantha Mendis
New Zealand are mulling over their spinners. To play three or not to play three, because Sri Lanka are far more skilled at playing the slow men than South Africa were. If they decide to go with only two then Luke Woodcock will miss out, and one of Daryl Tuffey and Andy McKay would come into the XI. Or perhaps James Franklin, though his inclusion ahead of a specialist bowler would significantly weaken the attack.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Brendom McCullum (wk), 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Jesse Ryder, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Scott Styris, 6 Kane Williamson, 7 Nathan McCullum, 8 Jacob Oram, 9 Daniel Vettori, 10 Tim Southee, 11 Luke Woodcock / Daryl Tuffey / Andy McKay
Try picking the XIs for tomorrow's game by playing Team Selector.
Vettori was surprised and upset that the surface being used for the semi-final is the same one on which Sri Lanka and England played the quarter-final on March 26. The pitch played slow during that game and it's likely to getter slower and harder to score on with repeated use. Chasing under lights used to be difficult at the Premadasa but Sri Lanka beat England without the loss of a wicket. The weather forecast is fair, with only chances of light rain.
Stats and trivia
- New Zealand's batsmen played out 171 dot balls in the quarter-final against South Africa. They played out 120 dot balls in 35 overs during their group match against Sri Lanka.
- Sri Lanka have won their previous four World Cup games against New Zealand. The overall head-to-head record is 35-33 in New Zealand's favour but since 2000 it is 20-11 in Sri Lanka's favour. In Sri Lanka, since 2000, the head-to-head record is 6-1 against New Zealand.
- Ross Taylor has hit more sixes (14) in this World Cup than the entire Sri Lankan team (12).
For more stats click here
"We need to move on pretty quickly from the South Africa game. We are proud of our achievement but we have to concentrate on this game now."
Daniel Vettori is putting the quarter-final behind him and focusing on Sri Lanka.
"The expectations are always there, that's not something that we can control. What we really want to do is to make sure that when we go out, we stay in the moment and we concentrate on what we have to do and make sure our focus is 100%."
Kumar Sangakkara on how his team will approach the challenge.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo