Bridgetown: An old boxing adage that a good big fighter will always beat a good small one could equally apply to Saturday’s World Cup final between defending champions Australia and Sri Lanka.
Australia have added another dimension to the 50-over version of the game at the 2007 tournament which culminates at the Kensington Oval after seven weeks across eight West Indian regions.
While justifiably proud of their skill-levels and a work ethic of puritanical intensity, the Australians have also introduced a power element which could sway Saturday’s final at the spiritual home of Caribbean cricket.
Matthew Hayden at the top of the order has hit three centuries and amassed the biggest run tally of the tournament with his brutal left-handed assaults off the front foot back over the bowler’s head.
His partner Adam Gilchrist has not fired yet but remains as potentially destructive as his opening partner, should his timing return. Andrew Symonds at No.5 is a wonderful athlete who possesses strength and finesse and Shane Watson, two places further down the order, can hit the ball as cleanly and as far as any of his teammates.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting said before the tournament began that big, strong men hitting through the ball were changing the nature of the game. His observation was put into practice before Australia’s final first-round match against South Africa in St Kitts, when they devoted a training session with both an open and closed net to throwing the bat at the ball.
Several screamed through the air into a sugarcane field, others threatened the safety of the spectators sitting in a small stand. The result was an Australian Cup record of 377 and an 83-run win over the then world No.1 side.
This is not to say the Australian batting is all about hitting sixes. Ponting, who practised against a bowling machine Friday, is in the form of his life and it is difficult to conceive that anybody at any time has batted better than the quick-footed Australian skipper. Michael Clarke has also batted beautifully with precise footwork complemented by wristy drives.
If Sri Lanka are to beat Australia they must dismiss or contain the most daunting batting line-up around and the 1996 champions have, by common consent, the most varied and versatile attack in the competition.
Lasith Malinga, who took four wickets in four balls against South Africa, was lethal in the semi-final against New Zealand with his round-arm slingers homing in on the batsmen at speeds consistently in excess of 145 kilometres.
Chaminda Vaas continues to delight the purists by getting out class batsmen with immaculate swing bowling at a modest pace. Muttiah Muralidharan can simultaneously restrict and attack with his rubber-wristed off-spinners and the doosra, which snakes in the opposite direction.
The batting on the slow Caribbean pitches where the bounce gets lower as the day progresses depends heavily on Sanath Jayasuriya, who does not need the ball coming on to him fast to score quickly. Otherwise, the Sri Lankans lack the power of the Australians to hit the ball over the top.
Jayasuriyaalso seemed game for a verbal battle. Daring opponents to hurl bouncers at him, Jayasuriya said: “It doesn’t matter what they bowl to me. I have been around long enough in international cricket to face any sort of bowling. If they bounce me, I can pull and hook as well.”
Light showers, though, could interrupt Saturday’s final.
Mahela Jayawardene said they will not veer from their usual gameplan. “The most important thing for us is to play the brand of cricket that we have been playing,” he said. “That is the best way to beat any side in the world.”
As Ponting is quick to acknowledge, no team is impregnable and one day the unbeaten Australian run at World Cups, which stretches back to the 1999 tournament will end. Australia are doing everything in their power to ensure Saturday is not that day.
Australia (likely): Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Hogg, Nathan Bracken, Shaun Tait, Glenn McGrath.
Sri Lanka (from): Upul Tharanga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Chamara Silva, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Russel Arnold, Fervez Mahroof, Chaminda Vaas, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralidharan, Dilhara Fernando.
Umpires: Steve Bucknor, Aleem Dar. TV: Billy Bowden.
Match Referee: Jeff Crowe
Match starts: 7 pm (IST)