Johannesburg: Contrasting bowling lineups are likely to decide the fate of Friday’s opening World Cup Super Six clash between Australia and Sri Lanka at Centurion Park.
Ricky Ponting’s unbeaten world champions will rely heavily on fast bowlers Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Andy Bichel.
Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions, will depend on spin bowling to back up their leftarm strike bowler Chaminda Vaas, the tournament’s leading wicket taker.
Ponting is aware of the threat the Sri Lanka spinners Muttiah Muralidharan, captain Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva can pose but he believes his side can cope and make it seven wins out of seven in the tournament.
“I saw Sri Lanka bowled four spinners against South Africa and a few sides have liked to do that against us over the past few years,” Ponting said. “They have had some success against us but that has usually been on fairly ordinary pitches.
“The one at Centurion has not turned much in this tournament and speaking to (Canadian batsman) John Davison he said the one they played on there was outstanding.”
The Sri Lanka spinners gave a perfect demonstration of their prowess in last September’s Champions Trophy semifinal in Colombo when they sent Australia crashing to defeat. On that occasion many of the batsmen looked bereft of ideas but Ponting said they would not fall into that trap this time.
“It will be left to individuals to formulate their own game plans but I am sure we will speak as a group about it,” he said. “In Colombo they caught us unaware because we didn’t really know how well Aravinda would bowl and we didn’t expect the ball to turn as much as it did.”
Australia’s batsmen will also have to address the issue of shot selection after several members of the top order appeared guilty of recklessness at the start of their ultimately successful run chase against England on Sunday.
“Oneday cricket is all about summing up the situation and that is something we didn’t do as a top order against England, or against Pakistan in our first match,” said Ponting.
Since Australia’s loss in Colombo, they obtained some form of revenge by winning three out of four encounters in the triseries at home as Sri Lanka’s batsmen struggled to come to terms with the pace and bounce of Australian pitches.
“If the wicket is carrying through and has some pace and bounce, I am sure we will be testing them out if we can,” said Ponting. “I am sure they will still be thinking of their time in Australia as apart from one match they played some pretty ordinary cricket.”
Ponting is aware that his side is likely to get little or no support from the locals despite South Africa’s elimination from the tournament, given the fierce sporting rivalry that exists between the two countries.
“We have not had too much support here apart from a small pocket of Australian fans and the whole feeling is that no one wants to see us win,” he said. “I am sure that will grow now that South Africa are out but a lot of the guys have played all around the world in different places and they will be used to the crowds.”
Australia’s one injury concern is fast bowler Jason Gillespie, who has missed their last two matches with a sore right heel. Gilespie had the heel scanned on Tuesday and team officials will await the results before deciding what to do next.
In Gillespie’s likely absence, Australia are expected to go into the match with an unchanged side from the team who beat England by two wickets on Sunday.
Sri Lanka possess potentially explosive batting, headed by opener Jayasuriya. Maravan Atapattu stroked a wonderful century against South Africa and De Silva revived memories during the same match of his performances in the 1996 tournament.
Yet they can be disconcertingly fragile as they showed during their 53run loss to Kenya, a performance condemned by Jayasuriya as amateurish.
In praise of Hussain
Ponting paid a handsome tribute to Nasser Hussain after the Englishman’s decision to stand down as his country’s oneday captain. “I think he has done a good job for England as captain in both forms of the game during a difficult period,” Ponting said. “He has been under a lot of pressure but he has been a good leader and a tough player.”
“The past 12 months have been pretty difficult for him and lately he has had an Ashes loss, the triseries loss and now the World Cup exit,” said Ponting. “I suppose England now has to look ahead and more towards making things good for the future.”