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Champion might vs Murali magic

Port Elizabeth: With the chinks in their armour exposed lately, the Australians face a real challenge in their quest for the World Cup when they meet Sri Lanka in the first semi-final here on Tuesday.

While Michael Bevan will replace the injured Damien Martyn in the Australian XI, the Sri Lankans may retain the side which beat Zimbabwe. If a change is made, Jehan Mubarak could replace Pulasthi Gunaratne, reports our Special Correspondent in Port Elizabeth.

Muttiah Muralidharan would undoubtedly pose a few problems to the Australians, who were given a scare by Aasif Karim, the 39-year-old Kenyan pulled out of retirement. Karim ripped through the middle order with figures of 3 for 7 in the Australians’ last Super Six match.

Muralidharan, who has often troubled the famed Australian batting, could not have asked for better conditions to stop their juggernaut in what promises to be a thrilling contest.

“It is a pitch that will suit us. Anything can happen on the day and we will be playing hard cricket just like we have done in the past” said Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya.

The Lankan skipper’s confidence stems from the fact that the low bounce of the St George’s Park track would suit the slow bowlers. And the Lankans, besides the wily Murali, will depend on veteran Aravinda de Silva and Jayasuriya to stem the run flow.

The Aussies said they were not unduly worried about the Muralidharan threat and had a plan in place to counter him.

“I thought we played very well against Muralidharan the last time we met, and I am hopeful we will do the same again”, said Aussie captain Ricky Ponting.Ponting, whose team has not lost a single match in the Cup yet, conceded that the pitch could favour the Lankans.

“It is well known that Sri Lanka do not like faster wickets but we have played in Port Elizabeth twice so we know the conditions better,” Ponting said.

The Sri Lankans will seek solace from their recent record against the Australians, as they are the only team to have defeated the defending champions this year. Australia have lost only two of their last 24 one-day Internationals and both to Sri Lanka.

TEAMS

Australia (from): Ricky Ponting (captain), Adam Gilchrist, Michael Bevan, Andy Bichel, Ian Harvey, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hogg, Brett Lee, Darren Lehmann, Jimmy Maher, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds, Nathan Bracken, Nathan Hauritz.

Sri Lanka (from): Sanath Jayasuriya (captain), Maravan Atapattu, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Aravinda de Silva, Russel Arnold, Jehan Mubarak, Avishka Gunawardena, Hashan Tillekeratne, Muttiah Muralidharan, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Pulasthi Gunaratne, Prabath Nissanka, Charitha Buddhika.

Umpires: David Shepherd (Eng) and Rudi Koertzen (SA)

Third umpire: Billy Bowden (NZ)

Match Referee: Clive Lloyd (WI).

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