Sri Lanka should go through while India vs. Pakistan is too close to call

The first of the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup is scheduled to be held later today at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. Sri Lanka are clear favorites to win the encounter against New Zealand. This is a repeat of the first semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 when Sri Lanka had won by 81 runs powered by Mahela Jayawardene’s magnificent hundred.

Sri Lanka have a strong bowling attack with the spinners doing the bulk of the job. The spinners and the seamers complement each other well. Muralitharan, Mendis and Herath could be a handful for the weak Kiwi batting. With Malinga’s toe crushing yorkers to be dealt with in the end overs, it is likely to be more than a handful! The only concern for Sri Lanka in bowling is the fitness of Muralitharan. If Murali does not play the semi-final, Nuwan Kulasekara could come in, although the big all-rounder Thisara Perera could come in handy. The spinners can be expected to bowl 60-80% of the overs and pick up a few wickets to put pressure on New Zealand. As far as the batting is concerned, there is no concern on the opening pair. Following the openers are the most experienced Sri Lankan batsmen – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The rest of the batting does not have the experience or the tenacity to survive an all out attack from the Kiwi bowlers.

New Zealand have a good bowling attack and a great fielding unit. The bowlers can be expected to stick to the basics and not give any room for the Sri Lankan batsmen to attack. Exerting pressure and taking wickets will be their ploy. It remains to be seen whether Kyle Mills plays. If he does not, will New Zealand stick to the same side that beat South Africa at Mirpur? Luke Woodcock was not quite impressive against the Proteas but can be good on the slower surface at Colombo. Daryl Tuffey might also be given a look in. With the fielders having an advantage over their Lankan counterparts, the catches will be a key factor in deciding the winner. The batsmen have to come really good as they face one of the world’s most potent bowling attacks. Ross Taylor will be the fulcrum in New Zealand’s batting efforts and the other batsmen will do well to play around him.

If the same pitch as the one used for the quarter final is used for this match, we can expect a slow pitch with not much runs. One would reckon 225-230 as a match winning score. It will be a tricky decision whether to bat or bowl first on winning the toss. New Zealand would probably bat first on winning the toss and Sri Lanka would probably ask the Kiwis to bat first if they won the toss. The weather is expected to be fair. An advantage for the winner will be that they have prior experience of having played at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai – the venue for the final. This should hold them in good stead against their opponents in the final. Sri Lanka have a 70-30 chance of going through to the final.

The second semi-final on Wednesday will be the match that millions of people are waiting for. India and Pakistan, for the first time, meet in a World Cup semifinal. The match, to be held at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, has already drawn attention for the cricket diplomacy between the Governments of the two countries. India’s record against Pakistan in one-day World Cups is envious – they have played each other four times and each time India have come on top. India’s record against Pakistan at Mohali is not so encouraging – they have played two and lost both – by a margin of 7 wickets in 1999 and 4 wickets in 2007.

India needs to be sharp with their bowling. The seamers and spinners will have to tighten the line and length and put excruciating pressure on the vulnerable Pakistan batting line up. India will look up to Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh to lead the bowling exemplarily. The bowling composition will likely be the same that did duties against Australia although the pitch at Mohali might prompt Dhoni to go with three seamers and a spinner. Ashish Nehra is likely to get the nod in such a scenario. The batsmen pick themselves. Suresh Raina will hold to his place after his match winning partnership with Yuvraj Singh against Australia. The worry is the batting Powerplay and India would do well to have one of the openers bat through the full 50 overs to counter any collapse during this phase. The batsmen will have to be very agile against Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi, the most threatening of the Pakistan bowlers. Also, they will have to watch out for Abdul Razzaq with the new ball in the 35th over. He is quite dangerous as he proved in the last couple of matches.

Pakistan’s strength clearly lies in bowling. Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Hafeez, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Abdul Razzaq all are in good form and among the wickets. With the kind of bowling attack they have at their disposal, any batting line up could go for a toss. Pakistan will be banking on this factor to win the encounter. They will be toying with the idea of playing Shoaib Akhtar who can unsettle the Indian batsmen with his pace. The batsmen will need to deliver, though. In a pressure match, their batting can come apart and they need to guard against self destruction. They have done the right thing by having Kamran Akmal open the batting. Against India, it would not be a bad idea to have Younis Khan come in at No.3 because if the openers depart early there will be too much pressure on the young Asad Shafiq.

The pitch will be good for batting but there will be assistance for the seamers especially at night. The dew will also be a factor and teams would like to chase if they win the toss. India need to be careful if they are chasing because there are better exponents of swing in the Pakistan camp and loss of early wickets can hamper their progress, especially if Pakistan score in the range of 270-280. Pakistan too, would be wary of chasing as early wickets can put tremendous pressure especially when their batting is not as strong as the Indian line up. The battle will be between the Indian batsmen and the Pakistan bowlers. Both sides will be equally pumped up to perform in front of their Premiers who will be at the stadium to watch the match. Predicting the winner is tough and the match is too close to call.

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I'm an avid reader and writer. Reading gets me a feeling of understanding the world through different perspectives and writing helps me outline my thoughts from the cobwebs that the mind has trapped it in!

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