It would be fair to say that Sri Lankan cricket has come along way in the 25 years since they were granted test status. They rolled up in New Zealand in 1983, full of hope and exotic surnames. There were two sets of brothers- Ratnayekes and Wettimunys. Throw in Goonasakera and De Alwis and it was a challenging summer for Messers Gallaway, Sharp and co.
It was not the most successful of tours. Although Sri Lanka actually led on the first innings in the second test, they lost both tests heavily. New Zealand was at the peak of its beige powers. Glenn Maitland Turner had returned to the team after his feud with Walter Hadlee, and was setting about changing the way opening batsmen played one-day cricket. He also had a very unfortunate moustache. In Auckland he blazed 140 at a time when hundreds, let along big hundreds, were a rarity in the shortened form of the game. New Zealand made 304, and in reply the Sri Lankans made 188/6 off their 50 overs. I guess they were happy playing for the draw. Turner actually bowled a maiden towards the end of the innings- along with those well known net bowlers John Wright and Jeff Crowe.
Obviously Sri Lanka’s greatest moment until now was winning the 1996 World Cup, but they have not stopped getting better. We have not seen the best of them in NZ until this summer when they humiliated the Black Caps in Auckland.
They are now a very well balanced side. Despite their capitulation to the Aussies this morning, I think the Cup is theirs for the taking. Bowling is the undoubted strength and with Vaas, Malinga and Murali in the line-up they can take any team. Especially the Black Caps. We just look plain uncomfortable. Not only against the three strike bowlers, but we also seem unable to use our feet to get to Jayasuriya or Dilshan. I am not saying it is easy. I once played against a guy with an action just like Malinga (where are you now John Guytonbeck?) and I never saw the ball, and he probably bowled half the pace.
So, given that we are all but certain to play Sri Lanka in the semis, how do we go about beating them? Well to start with, even on a low slow wicket, you have to put them in. If there is any weakness it is at the top of the order. Other than Jayasuriya they can look vulnerable if placed under pressure. It is getting harder, Jayawardene is coming into some form, but it is the only way.
And in reply we need to do our best to milk Murali for 30-40, and score heavily off the others. Hit Vaas off his line early, and get down the wicket to the spinners. As for Malinga- I recommend closing your eyes and swinging. It worked against Guytonbeck.
Biggest game of the tournament tomorrow. Poms v South Africans. I just have a little feeling the wheels are falling off the Proteas, but I can’t stand the thought of Paul Nixon celebrating a win. On balance I have to say it will go to South Africa. As Deaks would say, your thoughts?