31 March 2011

The final most people wanted

India and Sri Lanka have made it through their semis, both relatively easily in the end despite some worries in their matches. So as predicted and as many people wanted, the two home nations in the knock out stages have made it through. Sri Lanka's middle order had to bat under pressure which has been rare in the World Cup, and India had to work hard for their 260 and bowl tightly to take their place in the final.

A lot has been made of Younis Khan and Misbah Ul-Haq's slow batting during Pakistan's chase. It certainly cost Pakistan dear because by the time Razzaq and Afridi came in the run rate was climbing, which meant they had to get going quickly. Having said that Razzaq, strangely promoted above Afridi for the first time in the tournament, was out playing defensively. It almost felt like Pakistan hadn't agreed amongst themselves how they wanted to go about the chase - was it a case of keeping wickets in hand and then looking at 100 off the last 10, as Younis and Misbah seemed to think, or did they want to stay with the rate or even ahead of it throughout, as Umar Akmal seemed to think? Only they can say, such were their confusing tactics but what we can say is that going from 3 an over to 9 is always going to be tricky, where as 5 an over to 7 might be more achievable.

In defence of Misbah, Younis and MS Dhoni in India's innings, batting in the middle order seems like a struggle in the sub-continent, a point made by Mickey Arthur when looking at South Africa's demise. That's why I think the fitness of Angelo Mathews is critical if Sri Lanka are to win the World Cup as I predicted. With Mathews at 7, Sri Lanka's batting looks very strong up to that point, allbeit with the tail starting at 8 with Malinga who averages only 8 in ODIs. Without Mathews the alternatives look worring with Perera the most likely to come in - he's got some quality and can hit the ball miles but an average of less than 15 tells you all you need to know about his batting, and he doesn't have a history of handling pressure at the top-level - he'll be 22 the day after the final.

The other option Sri Lanka have is to play Kulasekera, who can count himself as extremely unlucky not to make it into Sri Lanka's first choice XI. He would be in the side every time outside the sub-continent where it seems a minimum of 3 spinners are needed. With an average of 17 with the bat he doubles that of Malinga but he hardly strikes fear into the opposition, were he to come in at 7.

Perhaps this thinking is why Sri Lanka have called up Chaminda Vaas and Suraj Randiv in case Mathews and/or Murali don't recover from injury. Randiv is a given as he was incredibly unlucky not to be in the squad to start with and Sri Lanka will benefit from a little extra batting if he replaces Murali. But Vaas, despite his poor ODI average of 14, has been batting higher recently, notably opening for Northants in the T20 last season and averaging in the late 20s. Hardly setting the world alight but perhaps they are considering him at number 7 if Mathews isn't fit - it would be an amazing story if they did go back to him. Personally I'd have been going for Maharoof rather than Vaas.

It may seem strange that players might come in from outside the squad and play their only match in the final, but that's how I think it should be - I still have the same objection to limited squad numbers as I had at the start of the tournament.

Much as I want Murali to play, Randiv on the face of it is a quality replacement, where as Mathews would be a big loss with no obvious replacement. The destiny of the World Cup could rest on the fitness of someone who's not yet 24, rather than the man soon to turn 39 and the most successful wicket-taker the game has ever seen.

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