Tuesday's match against NZ is our crunch game
By Kumar Sangakkara
Thursday, April 19, 2007
During the last few days there has been a lot written and spoken in the media regarding our selection for the Australia game. Much of the analysis has been ill-informed, offered without great thought or indeed understanding of the Sri Lanka team.
Consequently, many of the critics have been wide off the mark. Personally, I'm amazed that it stirred up so much controversy, though we respect the fact that everyone is entitled to his own opinion.
Nearly all the top cricket-playing nations have rotation policies that they put into action during heavily congested schedules. Australia, for example, regularly rests its senior players for group matches once (and sometimes before) its qualification has been confirmed.
What then is different between resting players in the CB Series or the World Cup? I question the double standards that are being applied here.
Will some of the television pundits now calling for ICC intervention do the same when Ricky Ponting next rests a strike bowler? I doubt it. Some of the critics appear to think that the Australia game was our most important game in the tournament.
Why – just because we were playing Australia? That's nonsense. The simple fact was it was the least important game of our World Cup. Even the Bermuda game was more important.
We are here to win the World Cup. Everything we do is focused on that goal. That was our focus before the tournament, and that is our ultimate focus right now.
We don't care about morale-boosting victories. We care about making sure we are completely ready and properly prepared when a crunch game comes along. The Australia game was not a crunch game. The semi-final against New Zealand on Tuesday is.
We rested Murali, Vaasy and Malinga in the best interests of the individuals and the team. We had to make sure they were at peak fitness and completely rested when we start on Tuesday in Jamaica. All three – especially Murali and Malinga – have minor niggles that benefited from their not playing. We are now confident that all three will be in the best possible physical shape they could be on Tuesday.
Furthermore, Murali and Vaasy are the lynchpins of our bowling attack. They have been for years and they remain so in this tournament – albeit with good support from Malinga, Dilhara and Farveez. True, they may have played many games against Australia during their long careers, but Sri Lanka has not played Australia in the last 14 months – a long time in international cricket. Giving Australia's batters a free look-in was not to our advantage if we meet again.
The argument against resting key players centers on the need to keep up the so-called winning momentum. True, momentum can be important during times when self-belief is fragile. However, our confidence is high. We all know that we have the ability to beat Australia, and we have the self-belief and mental toughness to perform in crunch situations. We don't need reassurance. Australia is a good team, but far from unbeatable.
Indeed, even with our three best bowlers on the sidelines we know we could (should) have defeated Australia. Unfortunately, our batting let us down and we were punished for mistakes at the start and end of our innings. You can't afford to do that against the Aussies. Had we scored 30-40 more runs – as we should have done – Australia would have struggled. All the team understood our thinking and we went into that game looking for a win.
I am sure the debate will rumble on. We, though, are concentrating on the next challenge against New Zealand, a tough opponent for a semi-final. We have battled together many times in the recent past and there are no secrets between us anymore.