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ICC World Cup Semi-Finals Preview

The semi-finalists for the ICC World Cup have now been decided and, as many predicted before the tournament kicked off way back on February 19th, there are three sides from the sub-continent still in with a chance of being crowned world champions. More of a surprise is the presence of New Zealand in the semi-finals following an inexplicable collapse by South Africa. Tomorrow (29th March) sees Sri Lanka take on the Kiwis in Colombo, before Wednesday (30th March) gives us cricket’s greatest rivalry, India vs. Pakistan, in Mohali. Prior to the big games, Sport Report takes a look at the four teams aiming to become world champions.

New Zealand

The Blackcaps came through Group A unconvincingly with four wins and two losses from their six matches. It is perhaps telling that the defeats came against top test-playing sides (Australia and Sri Lanka) and were, quite frankly drubbings. One should not forget however that they did defeat a very talented Pakistan side thanks to Ross Taylor’s fireworks in the last five overs in Pallekele, thus proving that on their day, they can be a match for anyone. The question is whether that was a one-off.

In tomorrow’s semi-final at the R Premadasa Stadium, Daniel Vettori’s men will need a much better performance against Sri Lanka than they did in the group stage if they are to progress. In that game, Sri Lanka hammered the Kiwis by 112 runs and everything points to them winning comfortably again in Colombo, but then again, everything suggested a South African victory in the quarter-finals. New Zealand do not possess the star names that India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka do, but they are a solid team unit. In Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum they do have batsmen capable of scoring big runs quickly and their fielding is as good as anything in cricket. Perhaps the most surprising element of their play during this World Cup has been their ability to take wickets as they have bowled out the opposition in four of their seven matches so far and taken nine wickets in two of the remaining three games. If they can be this dangerous with the ball in Colombo, they will give themselves a chance.

Key Players

Brendon McCullum: Wicket Keeper and opening batsman who is capable of fireworks as we have seen in the past. As an opener, he will look to exploit the fielding restrictions early on and get the Blackcaps off to a good start. He is however, prone to giving away his wicket and will need to avoid this against the pace of Lasith Malinga in the first few overs.

Daniel Vettori: New Zealand’s ever-reliable captain who is capable with both bat and ball. Vettori has been far from a prolific wicket taker in this World Cup, but is very capable of stifling attacks and creating scoreboard pressure which other bowlers can then exploit. He has underperformed with the bat in this tournament but is always capable of a vital lower-order knock.

Tim Southee: Southee has been something of a surprise package with the new ball taking 15 wickets (joint 3rd highest) at an economy rate of 4.94. Sri Lanka’s openers are arguably the best on show and so Southee’s spell will be key to the outcome of the game.

Sri Lanka

The joint hosts were one of the favourites going in to the tournament and have lived up to the billing. They finished second in Group A behind Pakistan with a record of four wins, one loss and one no result. Sri Lanka have a very balanced team and one which is capable with both the bat and the ball. They possess a blend of young talented cricketers such as Ajantha Mendis and Angelo Mathews and reliable, seasoned campaigners like Muttiah Muralidaran, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. They opted for three spinners against England on Saturday and may well do so again on a spin-friendly pitch. The Sri Lankans will benefit from fervent home support in Colombo and hold a convincing group stage win over New Zealand. Their resounding 10 wicket victory over England was highly impressive and they are favourites for this game.

Key Players

Tillakaratne Dilshan: Dilshan is a devastating batsman who forms a brilliant opening partnership with Upul Tharanga. The two did the job alone against England with Dilshan unbeaten on 108 off 115 balls. He has also proved more than useful with the ball as his miserly six overs and wicket against Andrew Strauss’s men showed. On a spin-friendly track in Colombo he may once again be given the new ball.

Kumar Sangakkara: Sangakkara is undoubtedly the best wicket keeper/batsman in the game and is also a first-rate captain. His bowling changes against England were imaginative and his field settings were very effective. He is the fourth highest run scorer in this World Cup with 363 and has been pretty much flawless behind the stumps.

Muttiah Muralidaran: What can one say about a man who has taken 1319 wickets in international cricket? The fact that Murali still gets as excited as a child in a sweet shop when he takes a wicket shows what kind of competitor he is. He is capable of ripping through batting orders with a mindboggling array of deliveries and of restricting batsmen to few runs off his bowling. He is still very much a key player at the age of 38 and Sri Lanka will be hoping the hamstring injury which has caused him problems in the last two games does not keep him out of this game.

Sport Report Prediction: Sri Lanka to win


India were the pre-tournament favourites thanks to home support and a formidable batting line-up that includes Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. The question marks related to their ability to handle the pressure of one billion expectant Indians and their slightly weak bowling attack. In truth, this World Cup has been something of a mixed bag for India as they lost to South Africa, drew a game they should have won against England, but impressively knocked out defending champions Australia in the quarter-finals. They have had issues with certain batsmen not performing as well as they should have and one such culprit, Yusuf Pathan, was dropped for the Australia match in favour of Suresh Raina who came in and steered India to victory with 34 off just 28 balls. The Indians have failed to bat out 50 overs too often in this tournament and cannot afford to do so again if they are to beat arch rivals Pakistan.

Key Players

Sachin Tendulkar: The Little Master scored his 18,000th ODI run in the quarter-final victory over Australia and is the third highest run scorer in the tournament with 379 runs, which have been scored at an average of 54.14. Tendulkar is very much in form at the moment and is searching for century 100, no doubt a milestone he would love to achieve against Pakistan on a batter’s track in Mohali. Tendulkar will open the batting with the explosive Virender Sehwag and will look to take it to Pakistan’s opening bowlers.

Yuvraj Singh: Yuvi has turned out to be India’s star performer in this competition. He showed his worth in the quarter-final with a match winning 57 not out and two wickets. That performance bagged Yuvraj the Man of the Match award for the fourth time in seven games. Many questioned his inclusion in the squad before the tournament, but he is a key player with bat and ball and has performed when others have failed. He will no doubt be a big factor in the outcome of the game against Pakistan.

Zaheer Khan: India’s bowling attack has, at times, looked slightly impotent with Munaf Patel offering very little and Harbhajan Singh struggling for wickets. Zaheer however, never lets India down, swinging the ball this way and then that. He will be key in the semi-final as Pakistan’s biggest weakness lies in its unconvincing opening pair. If Zaheer can account for one or both of them quickly, Pakistan’s underperforming middle-order will be exposed earlier than they would like.


Aside from five mad overs against New Zealand and a lacklustre but winning performance against Canada, Pakistan have probably been the most impressive team on show in a tournament they were originally supposed to host. They surprisingly topped Group A ahead of Sri Lanka and Australia which set up their rout of West Indies in the quarter-finals. Captain Shahid Afridi has been on fire with the ball and is the leading wicket taker with 21. Asad Shafiq has come in to the team at the expense of Ahmed Shahzad and has put in some excellent, mature performances which belie his inexperience at this level. Umar Gul looks to have found his accuracy with the ball and Pakistan’s varied bowling attack will provide India’s much-vaunted batting lineup with a stern test. They will, however, need improved batting performances from the likes of Afridi and Abdur Razzaq, as well as an error-free day behind the stumps from Kamran Akmal if they are to make an appearance in the final for the first time in 12 years.

Key Players

Shahid Afridi: Pakistan’s talismanic captain inspires those around even if he is not tactically the best. He has been the tournament’s stand-out bowler restricting opposition batsmen to very few runs and taking more wickets than any other bowler. Afridi has undoubtedly underperformed with the bat and played some frankly stupid shots. He will look to put that right against India and if he does, he could take the game away from India in the blink of an eye.

Umar Gul: Gul has really found his form in the last two games, although he was not exactly struggling prior to that. Pakistan’s premier quick bowler can swing the ball both ways and bowls a mean Yorker. He will be crucial early on in India’s innings as Sehwag and Tendulkar look to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. If he can induce an edge early on, Pakistan will be well set.

Kamran Akmal: The elder of the two Akmals is a key player as much for his ability to make massive errors as he is for his ability. He is a highly erratic performer behind the stumps and with the bat, capable of brilliance and ineptitude with equal measure. If he has a good day on Wednesday, he can keep as well as anybody and put runs on the board quickly. The problem from Pakistan’s point of view is that this is a big if.

Sport Report Prediction: India to win (just!)

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