Colombo: Coach Dav Whatmore believes Sri Lanka’s ability to cope with Australia in the first 15 overs of each innings could decide their ICC Champions Trophy semi-final on Friday.
The hosts are likely to face aggressive pace from Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, while openers Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden have the ability to dominate any bowling line-up.
But Whatmore said that if his players made a good start, they could well secure a place in Sunday’s final. “Their openers with bat and ball have been the catalysts for easy victories,” he said on Wednesday.
“Jason Gillespie looks well on top of his game at the moment, then there’s Glenn McGrath, and Brett Lee’s bowling quick and fairly straight. Then at the other end, when they bat, both left-handers are capable of getting big hundreds and breaking the game open.”
The man who will shoulder much of the burden when Sri Lanka bat will be captain and opening batsman Sanath Jayasuriya. He has made a miraculous recovery from a dislocated right shoulder suffered only three weeks before the tournament and went on to score an unbeaten century in the eight-wicket win over Pakistan in the opening match.
The coach acknowledged Jayasuriya’s role would be vital as Sri Lanka look to blunt Australia’s fast bowlers with the fielding restrictions in place.
Whatmore hinted Jayasuriya could also have a crucial role with his left-arm spin on a pitch expected to offer slow turn. “He’s only bowled three overs so far in the two matches but he might do more in the next couple.”
Whatmore said he did not think the lack of a really testing match for either side ahead of the semi-finals would play a major part. Sri Lanka cruised past Pakistan and Holland while Australia crushed New Zealand and Bangladesh.
“Ultimately, they have match-winners and we have some match-winners too, there’ll be some fight out there from both sides and it’s whoever fights for longest that will come out on top.”
The Sri Lankan coach confirmed the hosts have a fit squad of 14 despite some minor niggles including batsman Mahela Jayawardene (back) and Jayasuriya (shoulder).
Meanwhile, Gilchrist feels that it will be a huge test for them. “It’s a massive test against this team in their own back yard.”
He said they would prefer to bat first if they won the toss Friday. “History shows that it is tough to chase big scores in pressure games.”