Lanka, NZ look for momentum ahead of knock-out round
Mumbai: Quarterfinal berths secured, Sri Lanka and New Zealand would be keen to maintain the winning momentum prior to tougher battles in the knockout phase of the World Cup when they clash in their concluding Group `A` fixture on Thursday.
While New Zealand are currently second, a rung behind group leaders and defending champions Australia, a victory for tournament co-hosts Sri Lanka, a point behind the Black Caps with 7 to their credit, would push them ahead of the Kiwis in the pecking order.
However, it will be the concluding league fixture between Australia and Pakistan in Colombo a day later that would decide the final order of merit in the group as well as decide which team takes on which from Group `B` in the knock-out phase.
New Zealand, seventh in ICC rankings are set to go into the tie against fourth-ranked Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium here without their captain Daniel Vettori and key new-ball bowler Kyle Mills.
The duo is carrying injuries and targeting the quarterfinals to get back into action, and this could prove to be a major handicap against the Sri Lankans who are adept at playing on the slow wickets of the sub-continent.
"We are looking at having Kyle Mills and Daniel Vettori fit for the quarterfinals. Their injuries have come along fine but they probably are not ready for this match," said New Zealand`s vice captain Ross Taylor.
The 27-year-old Taylor will lead the Black Caps for the second match running after having been at the helm when they won their previous game against Canada to ensure entry in the last eight at this venue on March 13.
Lanka`s 33-year-old star batsman Mahela Jayawardene, while conceding that Vettori and Mills` absence would be to his side`s advantage, also cautioned that they can expect a new gameplan confronting them as a consequence.
"I think those two guys probably are the senior-most bowlers in their line up. But then again we can`t take anything lightly," said the former Lanka skipper ahead of the day-night tie.
New Zealand have called up Darryl Tuffey from home as cover for Mills and the bowler is scheduled to join the team on the day of the match. But he cannot be part of the playing unit unless the injured Mills is ruled out of the tournament and his replacement is agreed to by the International Cricket Council.
The Kiwis are likely to play left-arm spinner Luke Woodcock in the tie, according to Taylor.
The Black Caps have turned their fortunes around in the ODI format dramatically after having lost 10 matches in a row last year and then three out of five (one no result) against Pakistan at home just before their Cup campaign.
Barring the humiliating defeat against holders Australia in their second encounter, New Zealand have emerged with honours in the other four matches and were particularly brilliant when they thumped a dangerous Pakistan by 110 runs in Pallekele on March 8.
That tie also saw Taylor, an under-performing player in ODIs, get into cracking form with a blistering 131 not out and the stand-in skipper continued in the same vein with a bludgeoning 44-ball 74 against Canada in their previous tie here last Sunday.
Opener Brendon McCullum has also got into his stride with a superbly crafted 101 against minnows Canada and, with fellow-opener Martin Guptill also in splendid touch, the Kiwi top order looks very strong.
Lanka, who may not have had time to get used to the conditions in Mumbai after having spent the earlier part of the campaign at home, too go into the contest with a lot of confidence.
Openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga slammed individual hundreds in the previous tie against Zimbabwe on March 10 at Pallekele that the Emerald Islanders won by a huge margin of 139 runs.
On top that, Dilshan was deadly with his slow off spin too grabbing four wickets for four runs to emerge the man of the match, something his New Zealand opening counterpart McCullum did with his century and `keeping`, taking three catches and making a run-out, against Canada three days later.
Dilshan and McCullum would again be crucial players for their respective teams in the match.
The dew factor is an unknown entity and the Kiwi batsman felt captains have to go by instincts on the issue.
"Kandy (Pallekele stadium) was very dewy when we bowled, but when Sri Lanka played Zimbabwe there was no dew whatsoever. It`s a bit of pot luck when you bank on the dew coming down. I think you have to go with the instincts," McCullum said.
Sri Lanka have a varied bowling attack and would really test the Black Caps batting line up, especially Lasith Malinga with his sling-on action and wily off spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for whom the tournament is the Swan Song to end a glorious career on a high note.
"We have so many options with our bowling attack. The batting seems pretty much sorted. We have played bowlers according to conditions and opposition. It has worked for us. We will see what is going to be the best combination to play New Zealand", Jayawardene said yesterday.
Incidentally, Lanka have had the edge in recent previous encounters in the World Cup against the Black Caps, having won the lone tie in 2003 and then two in succession in 2007 in the West Indies where they finished runners-up to Australia.
But New Zealand, who had won all four Cup encounters between the two rivals in the first seven editions, upstaged the Emerald Islanders in their last face-up in an ICC 50-over, the Champions Trophy in 2009 held in South Africa.
Overall, in neutral territory the Black Caps have won 13 out of 26 match-ups, which include one tie and one no result. The two teams have met on 71 occasions in total, with New Zealand winning 35 and Lanka emerging on top in 32.
The rival teams (from):
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (capt), Martin Guptill, Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder, Nathan McCullum, Kane Williamson, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram, James Franklin, Tim Southee, Hamish Bennett, Luke Woodcock, Jamie How.
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Chamara Silva, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Chamara Kapugedara, Rangana Herath, Dilhara Fernando.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (ENG) and Asad Rauf (PAK)
TV umpire: Amish Saheba (IND)
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)
Hours of Play: 2:30 pm onwards.