World Cup final preview

27 04 2007

Above all else let me begin by saying that despite my inherent hatred of Australia (and let’s face it, which sane man actually doesn’t hate them? Note, I said sane, so Australians don’t fit the bill) my one wish for tomorrow’s World Cup final is a close cricket match. I would actually rather that Australia won it in a close contest than Sri Lanka won it in a one-sided one (although we all know that’s unlikely. If it’s one-sided it’ll be green and gold). The tournament has had only two close finishes I can recall; Sri Lanka vs South Africa and Sri Lanka vs England. The good news is that both of those matches involved Sri Lanka, as will the final. The bad news is Australia aren’t famous for crumbling, like the Proteas, and are a much better side than England.

Obviously the length of the tournament hasn’t helped dispel the idea that this has been the most boring Cricket World Cup in recent memory. However a few more intense matches and things might have been very different. Many have commented on the half-empty stadiums, and whilst a factor in this has been the number of Pakistani and Indian fans with tickets, whose teams both went home early, I think a more important factor in it has been the poor quality of the matches. You’d like to believe that true cricket fans, be they Pakistani or Indian, would stick around, having already paid for their tickets, and just go along to enjoy good cricket. Sadly there was so little “good cricket” on show.

The semi-finals were both one-sided affairs, which will only heighten expectations of a thrilling final. I suppose if anyone can deliver it, it’s Australia and Sri Lanka, who contested the final in 1996 in a classic match in Lahore. Perhaps that’s a good omen for a Sri Lanka win,? A win for them could only be good for a tournament which the Australians have dominated too easily.

Australia will naturally start as favourites. They’ve put together a great run of 28 World Cup games unbeaten and haven’t been challenged at all during this tournament. Hayden is in inspired form, Ponting is easily the best player in the world right now and their bowlers are all firing. Six of the 2003 winning side will be playing again tomorrow, which certainly gives them a massive edge in experience. But if any team can beat them, it’s Sri Lanka. The Australians were in similarly awesome form going into that famous final in 1996, and yet, despite being 27-2 at one stage, the Sri Lankans were able to win the match thanks to a wonderful century by Aravinda De Silva. Given Jayawardene’s spectacular century against the Kiwis in a similarly pressured situation , could the stage be set for something similar in the final again?

Malinga could prove to be the key. Australia have never played him in a One Day International, and he last played a Test against them in 2004. Considering his incredibly unusual action and raw express pace, few of the Australian batsmen will have seen anything like it, even if they’ve faced Shaun Tait in the nets. His opening five over burst against New Zealand was one of the best I’ve ever seen in One Day cricket, and his closing spell against South Africa, taking 4 in 4 balls, was easily one of the best examples of death bowling you’ll see. He gives his captain two options, express pace up top, and then deadly reverse swing and slower balls late on. If he continues like this he could be the complete bowler.

In Vaas and Muralitharan Sri Lanka have two men who’ve seen it all and their experience and guile, coupled with Malinga’s raw brilliance, could just be enough. Their secret weapon could well be their Australian World Cup winning coach, who seems to have instilled a bit of “Aussie-ness” into this side.

With Muralitharan’s presence, and their use of Jayasuriya, Arnold and Dilshan as support bowlers, one might expect Sri Lanka to prefer to bowl second. Pitches have slowed down in this tournament, which would favour the spin, and teams have struggled to chase on slower wickets. However I think that if Jayawardene is seduced by this logic, it would be a mistake. Barbados has been the exception, it’s generally been very hard to play on for the first hour or so, with the ball whizzing through, and then been easier as the game’s gone on.

Despite history showing only two teams have ever won the tournament chasing in the final, I’d give Malinga a chance to bowl while the wicket is still hard and bouncy. With all the other factors going in his favour, he could wreak havoc. The likes of Jayasuriya and Tharanga are at their best playing free strokes, thrashing away to get ahead of the run rate, rather than playing a more measured way, building an innings, as is required if you’re batting first. The Sri Lankans struggled to set a good target against Australia earlier in the tournament (although perhaps with their best bowlers they might have still successfully defended it), so that too goes in favour of bowling first, and then chasing.

I won’t use this time to comment too heavily on the retirement of Glenn McGrath. Unlike many people who seem to be drooling all over him, I actually remember the controversy involving McGrath and Sarwan in 2003 and since then I’ve lost all respect for the man. As a player, I still maintain respect for what he’s done (how could I not?) but unlike the retirement of the truly great Shane Warne, I will not be sad to see McGrath gone. It’s not out of dislike of the Australians, as I was very sad to see Warne go, even though he’s tormented England over the years. McGrath’s simply just a despicable petty little man who can dish it out but can’t take it. When you read what was said, McGrath’s remarks were homophobic and Sarwan’s had nothing to do with Jane’s cancer.

However in the interests of balance, I do wish him all the best in his future, particularly as regards his wife. Cancer is a horrible thing to have to deal with and I wish her all the best. And also in the interests of balance, I will not engage in a discussion of Muralitharan’s various controversies when it comes to Australia, whether it be the (false) accusations of chucking or his “terrible” one day average of 29.84 against the Australians at a time when Australia have dominated world cricket. Who knows, maybe he’ll have the last laugh yet? He’s one of the members of the 1996 winning side and took 1-31 off 10 there. A similarly tight spell could be all Sri Lanka need from the magician.

Despite all I’ve said above, I’m afraid I cannot see anything but an Australian victory. Whilst the three strike bowlers for Sri Lanka have all done the job, Dilhara Fernando hasn’t, and may well find himself dropped for Maharoof, who gives the side a bit of slogging lower down the order too. Some have said that Sri Lanka lack an “enforcer” down the order, a role Symonds performs for them, but I’m not sure Maharoof is truly in the same bracket. By contrast the Australians have three seamers in form, which should suit the pitch, and even if conditions should slow down, they have Hogg.

Whilst calling Jayasuriya a “part time bowler” is probably a disservice, Andrew Symonds is a genuine all-rounder and gives Australia another spin option (as does Michael Clarke) if they need it. Ultimately, even if you give Sri Lanka the edge with the ball, it’s a slight edge, and their batting line-up doesn’t quite look as good below the top 4 as Australia’s. Let’s just hope it’s a close one, eh?



2 responses

28 04 2007

Sadly it looks as though the weather will be the winner 😦

28 04 2007
Mr President

Agreed. It’s a shame because it’s turned the final into a farce. They really should simply have come back tomorrow for a 50-over match once it became clear we weren’t going to get one. I actually feel sorry for Australia winning such a hollow victory.

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