The semi finalists of the world cup are all known and all that’s left before then is a match between two of the disappointing teams of this years event, England and the West Indies. On Tuesday Sri Lanka will take on New Zealand and on Wednesday South Africa will do battle against the undefeated Australians. By all accounts they have been the four strongest ODI performers of the last few years and not just in the last few weeks, and so rightfully take their place in the knockout face. The Aussies have been the immovable force powering their way towards the title, with a brand of intimidating cricket that seeks to kill off their opposition as quickly as possible. Hayden and Gilchrist get them off to a bludgeoning start, bullying the bowling, getting on top of the fielders, and laying the perfect platform for Ponting and Clarke to finish the job off. When bowling Bracken and McGrath have been tight and disciplined, with McGrath leading the wickets list and only 3 shy of the World Cup record of 23 wickets. Tait, although expensive and giving away too many extras, has made breakthroughs, and so done the job of strike bowler as well as been hoped. The New Zealanders have played a very tactically aware game of cricket, making full use of conditions and their bits and bobs cricketers, such as Scott Styris and Craig McMillan. Shane Bond has been outstanding for them up front and at the end, with Daniel Vettori doing the business in the middle overs. As usual captain Stephen Fleming has been very astute in using the resources he has at his disposal. The Sri Lankans have been the most balanced team in the tournament. The batting has been steady when needed, and stylish and flamboyant when things have gone right. Any of the top four are able to take the game away from the opposition, while the middle order are comfortable both ending an innings when the platform has been set, as well as rebuilding after the loss of wickets. It is however their bowling that is the epitomy of balance. In Vaas they have the Pollock or McGrath type bowler, economic, experienced and cunning, the ideal foil to the unpredictable, quick, unconventional talent that is Lasith Malinga. He is as capable of going for big runs in his opening spell as he is of taking quick wickets. However it is at the end of any innings were his ability to reverse the ball at pace can be devastatingly exploited, as South Africa saw in the Super 8 game where he took 4 wickets in 4 balls, a ODI record. Add to these two bowlers the guile and expertise of Muralitharan and you have a wonderfully balanced, effective bowling line up. The semi final draw is completed by South Africa. Ranked the number one team before the tournament began, South Africa would have fancied their chances at the get go. However as the weeks have progressed we have seen two different South Africa’s at play, the side that so devastatingly thrashed both England and the West Indies, and the side that then lost to Bangladesh, and to a lesser extent New Zealand. The South Africans, particularly their captain Graeme Smith, have tremendous belief in themselves and feel that they are the team to topple Australia. Their victories have been built on a solid bowling performance, backed up by some outstanding fielding, and aggressive, brave, batting. The bowling of Andrew Hall, particularly at the end of an innings, as been instrumental in their restriction of teams. The batting has flowed from good starts by Smith and de Villiers upfront, who have scored at over a run a ball in all their significant partnerships. When they have given the team a good start they have allowed Kallis to benefit from a sound platform, and given the likes of Boucher and Gibbs to play with freedom and class. If South Africa are to get past Australia they will need a team performance such as that against England, were everything went right for them, and they were able to play the type of cricket they are best at. The unpredictable performances they have shown thus far means that they are perhaps the best bet to beat the Aussies. The winner of the world cup, I feel, will come from this match. South Africa versus Sri Lanka is the final I predict, with South Africa winning their first world cup.
Sri Lanka v South Africa final?