POOL A | Sunday 08 March | Sydney | 05:30
Hosts Australia would likely not have expected to be sitting third in Pool A, four matches down, facing a Sri Lankan side in fine form and a point and position above them. Neither of these two international giants should be too stressed about making the knockout stages, but this match could go a long way in defining who they will face in the next round. Sri Lanka have a pretty useful record recently against Australia when playing Down Under and will look to draw upon their victories in the 2013 Tri-Series that propelled them all the way to the final. Sri Lanka’s thrashing of England was a reminder to never underestimate the outfit in a tournament situation.
To Win Match
Sri Lanka 5/2
Australia racked up the largest total in World Cup history in their previous match against Afghanistan. David Warner’s rampant 178 from 133 balls was the catalyst in Australia accelerating to the mammoth total and he was perfectly supported by Steve Smith’s 95. Glenn Maxwell’s unorthodox invention sealed a powerful performance with the bat, his 88 coming from a mere 39 deliveries. Big news in team selection prior to the match was the axing of Shane Watson due to poor form. Smith was promoted to number three and James Faulkner made a return from a side strain injury in place of Watson, meaning both Mitchell Marsh and Faulkner provided seam bowling allrounder options. Of course, Watson adds the same variety and will require poor performances from the two youngsters if he is to squeeze his way back into the side. Marsh obliged against the minnows, scoring a measly eight runs and conceding more than that per over. However, his five-wicket haul against England will likely keep him in the side for this match. Aaron Finch has lost his touch following a compelling century against England and one must acknowledge that his partnership with Warner will be important against Sri Lanka’s seamers. The latter remains the real danger man. Sri Lanka will do well to remember that you simply cannot bowl short to David Warner.
Lahiru Thirimanne and Kumar Sangakkara strode to centuries as Sri Lanka manhandled the English attack to chase down 309 for the loss of one wicket. They also did it with more than two overs to spare. The pair put on 212 in 28.2 overs following the fall of Tillakaratne Dilshan for 44. Thirimanne put bad memories of James Anderson behind him to score 139 at close to a run a ball, while Sanga’s 117 from 86 was full of both power and precision. It completed his second consecutive century in the competition. This means that the Sri Lankan top four now all have hundreds to their name in this tournament. They must, however, correct basic errors in bowling and fielding that resulted in a slightly bloated target as far the English were concerned. Suranga Lakmal and Lasith Malinga will be crucial with the two new balls, as Sri Lanka will require early penetration into the Australian batting line-up. Sri Lanka may consider the addition of Nuwan Kulasekara to the team, especially considering that Karunaratne has been ruled out of the World Cup with a broken finger and Herath is also battling for fitness. Kulasekara bowled vicious in-swingers to scupper the Aussies at the Gabba in 2013 and could end up as Sri Lanka’s trump card should he get it right again.
The Sydney Cricket Ground hosted South Africa’s 257-run demolition of the West Indies, the only match played at the SCG in the World Cup so far. Clearly the pitch is conducive to batting with the Proteas racking up 408, but Imran Tahir also took five wickets on a day in which the spinners claimed their fair share of dismissals. Swing should be on offer for the seamers, but one feels that Sri Lanka will miss Rangana Herath dearly in choking Australia’s run rate. There’s a pretty good chance of rain in the morning but it should all clear in time for a full fixture.
VERDICT: Sri Lanka 5/2
This is actually a really tough one to call but the value on offer for Sri Lanka cannot be ignored. They’ve beaten Australia in three of their last four contests, one of them taking place in England during the Champions Trophy. Australia are probably the better team on paper but have already shown fallibility in this World Cup. I’m going out on a limb for a Sri Lanka win.