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Sri Lankans hold the mental edge

Kingston: New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming will target Sri Lanka’s top three in Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final in the hope of exposing a middle order which he believes lacks hitting power late in an innings.

The wicket at Sabina Park is expected to offer bounce and Fleming was relishing the prospect of fit-again strike bowler Shane Bond exploiting the perceived weakness, if the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya can be removed first.

“If we can take wickets at the top you are not going to be faced with a scenario where you have the Symonds and Watsons or Bouchers and Pollocks that can destroy you in the last 10 overs,” Fleming told a news conference on Monday.

“We feel they are one team we can perhaps manage a bit better in the last 10. Potentially they are not as strong in that area it is just exposing that area that is tough.”

Bond missed Friday’s 215-run defeat by Australia because of a stomach complaint but is now fully fit. Allrounder Jacob Oram is also set to return after being rested because of a bruised heel.

“Shane is fine. I don’t envisage any problems with him,” Fleming said.

“Bounce might be a key factor. It may give us an advantage in terms of what we can extract with our taller bowlers but they’ll be thinking the same thing.”

Sri Lanka’s bowling, however, is a worry for Fleming. “Their bowling attack I think is the most balanced and has the ability to take wickets at any stage down the innings.

“Each time you play (Muttiah) Muralidharan you realise how good he is. We’ve just got to not be negative against him but be smart with him. Both Muralidharan and Lasith Malinga deserve a lot of attention because they are so unusual.”

The main selection issue for New Zealand is whether to continue playing two spinners or drop Jeetan Patel to allow for an extra paceman.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene, on the other hand, accepts New Zealand have more batting options than his side but believes his specialist bowlers can do enough for victory.

“We have a different combination, we have genuine bowlers in our line-up and we rely on the top seven to score the runs. The top seven are there to bat the 50 overs, simply that is how we go about our game.

“If your top seven guys don’t score in the 50 overs then you can’t blame the others.”

Jayawardene confirmed that Malinga is fully fit for the game, after missing the last three Super Eight matches with an ankle injury.

Jayawardene felt Sri Lanka, champions in 1996, could also have the edge in handling the pressure of a big match as New Zealand have never reached a World Cup final.

“In terms of experience I think our guys have played in more big and tough matches,” he said.

Critics have suggested that Sri Lanka’s batting is overly reliant on the 37-year-old Jayasuriya but the captain said he was pleased with the contribution from his other main batsmen.

“We’ve adjusted well to the conditions, we’ve played under difficult conditions because I’ve practically lost the toss every time.

Teams

Sri Lanka (likely): Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Chamara Silva, Fervez Mahroof, Muttiah Muralidharan, Chaminda Vaas, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando.

New Zealand (likely): Stephen Fleming, Peter Fulton, Ross Taylor, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Brendon McCullum, Daniel Vettori, Jeetan Patel, Shane Bond, James Franklin.

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (RSA), Simon Taufel (Aus); TV: Daryl Harper (Aus).

Match Referee: Mike Procter.

Match begins: 8pm (IST).

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