| Yuvraj Singh pads up for nets in Johannesburg Sunday, the eve of India’s Super Six game against Sri Lanka. (AFP)
Sri Lankan coach Dav Whatmore was quoted recently as saying he didn’t believe anyone could beat the powerful Australian team in this World Cup. I wonder if he believes his team can defeat India on Monday.
Sri Lanka have had some success with the bat in this tournament with Sanath Jayasuriya, Maravan Attapatu and Aravinda de Silva leading the way but, apart from Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralidharan, their bowling has been below par and the fielding lacklustre.
They don’t look like a team that wants to win the Cup. The trouble is, the Lankans are mercurial and can be playing poorly one day and perform like world-beaters the next. Their cricket is instinctive and when the instincts are right and are followed, there are few teams in the world which can match them.
India can match them because they also play their best when following instincts. Either of these two teams is capable of beating Australia provided they don’t beat themselves first.
The Australians are well drilled and play with a great deal of passion based on some well thought-out gameplans. I don’t think either India or Sri Lanka can match Australia if they try to play them at their structured game. They need to take the Aussies on by playing their own instinctive style of cricket.
They might as well practise against each other!
India do rely on Sachin Tendulkar a great deal and he is one of the most instinctive players the game has seen. He tends to assume the responsibility of taking on the opposition in an aggressive fashion and also targets the opponents’ main bowler, or bowlers, and takes the challenge straight to them.
He has already done it in this tournament against the Pakistan pacemen with devastatingly positive results. I have seen him do it successfully against Saqlain Mushtaq and he has taken on Shane Warne to lead India to victories against Australia in India. He will be keen to take it up to Vaas and Muralidharan in Monday’s contest and the winner could take the spoils.
Sri Lanka have two champions of their own in Jayasuriya and De Silva, and they have both been in good form. They are not usually as devastating as Tendulkar can be although they are capable of destroying any attack if the conditions are right.
Jayasuriya’s fitness is important to Sri Lanka. The opener will be very keen to play as he has two other important roles — as captain and as one of the frontline bowlers.
Sanath’s leadership is, like him, understated and positive while his bowling is, unlike the man, often under-rated. He has turned many a game with his guile and subtlety. With De Silva, Jayasuriya has unhinged many teams with useful overs in the middle stages of an innings.
Both coaches will want to keep the gameplan simple. They will want the bowlers to bowl as few bad balls as possible so the opposition batsman will have to take risks to make big scores. They will also want the fielders to make a commitment to support bowlers to the hilt.
From a batting perspective, they will want the rest to support the top guns. Partnerships are still an important part of one-day cricket and need to have clearly defined roles. The support person is no less important. Off strike, good players can become frustrated and make fatal mistakes and this, in turn, can build pressure on the rest.
As Michael Bevan has shown so admirably, you do not have to be hitting boundaries to keep the scoreboard ticking. Deft placement, combined with positive and energetic running, can tear the opposition just as effectively.
Whichever team can combine these basic skills effectively, will do much toward booking a final spot, most likely with Australia, for March 23. Alternatively, one of the superstars can just pound the opposition attack into submission and seal the issue.
A good team performance though will do more for the winning team’s hopes come March 23 at the Wanderers. (PTI)