Cricket Web’s Semi-final preview

And so it has finally come down to this. What we’ve all been waiting for. After nearly seven weeks, scratch that, after nearly four years, the four best sides in the world will battle it out to take home one-day cricket’s greatest prize; the World Cup.

Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are the four teams left. The four sides that have played the best cricket over the tournament and perhaps recent years. All it will take is for one of them to win the next two games on the trot to be called ‘champions’.

It has been a long World Cup with its fair share of criticism and complaints. The games have been largely unexciting, the crowds have been poor as have been some of the regulations. But the fans are yearning for a contest and with these two semi finals; Sri Lanka Vs New Zealand in Jamaica and Australia Vs South Africa in St Lucia, they just might get what they’ve been waiting for.

Head to Head

Sri Lanka Vs New Zealand
Sri Lanka and New Zealand matches have become a hard fought rivalry in recent times. When these two sides meet, sparks fly and there is often little or nothing at all between them.

The rivalry started back in 2005 with a five match series in New Zealand. After the first match was rained out, a seven wicket, five wicket and 21 run win to New Zealand ensured they comprehensively won the series before Sri Lanka pegged them back in the final match to win by 20 runs in a thriller. Peter Fulton played a lone hand in that game with a fine century as Chaminda Vaas ripped through the rest of the New Zealand line up.

At the Champions Trophy last year in Mumbai, the two teams met again and this time Sri Lanka were able to beat New Zealand by seven wickets after Muttiah Muralitharan brilliantly took 4 wickets for 23 runs.

Following the Champions Trophy, Sri Lanka again toured New Zealand and thoroughly took care of the Black Caps in the first ODI after a classy century from Sanath Jayasuriya. The second match was an all-time great, with New Zealand winning by just one wicket on the last day of 2006. A last ball boundary from Michael Mason saw the Black Caps home in extraordinary circumstances.

After restricting the Sri Lankans to 112 in the third ODI, the New Zealanders stuttered to the finish line to win unconvincingly by four wickets. However the fourth match of the series was a talking point around the cricketing world. After making 262, Sri Lanka, led by Vaas, Malinga and Muralitharan, set about systematically destroying the New Zealand batting line up, reducing them to a paltry and embarrassing 73 runs, all out.

New Zealand were unable to get their revenge however. With the decider washed out, the series was drawn, appropriately.

Come the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean and all eyes turned to the match in Grenada, where the two rivals would meet again. It was not the contest most were expecting though. After a clinical performance with the bat and the ball, Sri Lanka emerged victorious by six wickets, perhaps taking the mental edge into their semi-final clash.

In the past two years, the results between the two are level at 5 matches a piece. In World Cup history, both sides have won three matches each against each other. Whoever manages to break the deadlock in Jamaica will not only gain short-term ascendancy and bragging rights over the opposition, but they will be one match away from World Cup glory.

Australia vs South Africa

But if the rivalry between Sri Lanka and New Zealand is big, worlds can not describe the enormity of an encounter between Australia and South Africa.

There is the famous 1999 World Cup. A tied semi-final in which Australia went through on points. It was a match that many coin “The Greatest Ever”. Less than a week before, the two sides had met for another all time great match when Gibbs “Dropped the World Cup” as Steve Waugh led his side to a remarkable victory in England.

In 2005/06 after a hard fought Test series, the two sides came head to head in Australia, together with Sri Lanka for the VB tri-series. Despite South Africa getting off to a good start in Brisbane; winning by five wickets, Australia dominated the rest of their meetings, defeating the Proteas by 59, 80 and 57 runs in their next three match-ups, leaving South Africa out of the finals in which Australia defeated Sri Lanka 2-1.

No one was prepared for what happened next though. Australia travelled to South Africa for a three match Test series and five match one-day series. The first ODI saw Australia lose by six wickets in Centurion and in the second they fared even worse, losing by 196 runs after crumbling for just 93 in their chase. They fought back in the third and fourth match to win two thrillers by 24 runs and one wicket each to bring the series to a decider.

And what a decider it was. It was a match that whoever saw it, would never forget it for the rest of their lives. Australia, batting first set Johannesburg alight. On the back of a superb innings from captain Ricky Ponting who scored 164, Australia smashed the 400 barrier mark, registering the highest ever ODI score; an incredible 434 runs.

It was a record that didn’t last the day however, as South Africa pulled off a mission impossible to win the game. A feat so magnificent, so unfeasible that no one would ever dare predict such an outcome in-between innings. But it happened. Herschelle Gibbs cast aside his Australian hoodoo and bettered Ponting’s score with 175 runs off just 142 balls. A brilliant cameo from wicketkeeper Mark Boucher led his side home by one wicket and the crowd went wild, the players frantic and the cricket world was abuzz.

The rematch in the group stage of the World Cup had everyone on the edge of their seats. It was a fixture that was hyped by cricket lovers and the media around the world for months in advance. South Africa had just recently toppled Australia in the ICC rankings and Australia were out for revenge.

They got it pretty easily as they posted a sizeable total of 377 on the back of a brutal century from Matthew Hayden. Despite looking good early and memories of Jo’berg flooding back, Australia, through the efforts of an excellent Shane Watson run-out and cramps to Graeme Smith, were able to peg back South Africa to win by 83 runs.

Whatever the outcome on Wednesday, one can expect an exciting brand of cricket from these two sides. They give everything on the field and are ruthless in search of the victory. At no stage is either side ever really out of the game and not until the hundredth over has been bowled are we likely to know which of these two powerhouses of one-day cricket will advance to the final of the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

Road to the Semis

Australia started their World Cup with two convincing wins over associate teams Scotland and Holland, by 203 runs and 229 runs respectively. They beat South Africa in their final Group A match by 83 runs to finish on top of their group table. In the Super Eight stage, they defeated every side without a problem, going through to the semi finals undefeated. At no stage throughout the tournament so far, have they looked like being beaten.

Australia (Win/Loss):
W – Scotland by 203 runs
W – Netherlands by 229 runs
W – South Africa by 83 runs
W – West Indies by 103 runs
W – Bangladesh by 10 wickets
W – England by 7 wickets
W – Ireland by 9 wickets
W – Sri Lanka by 7 wickets
W – New Zealand by 215 runs

New Zealand
The Kiwis have had a solid World Cup so far. Going through undefeated in the group stage, they have had good wins against nearly every team besides Australia and Sri Lanka. In their defence, against Australia they were missing two of their best players, Shane Bond and Jacob Oram.

New Zealand (Win/Loss):
W – England by 6 wickets
W – Kenya by 148 runs
W – Canada by 114 runs
W – West Indies by 7 wickets
W – Bangladesh by 9 wickets
W – Ireland by 129 runs
L – Sri Lanka by 6 wickets
W – South Africa by 5 wickets
L – Australia 215 runs

South Africa
After coming into the tournament with high expectations, the then number one ranked side has failed to impress at times. A bright start to the Cup, a world record six 6s in an over against the Netherlands from Herschelle Gibbs, was unable to set the tone for the rest of the World Cup as they went down to Australia, Bangladesh and New Zealand throughout the tournament. However a good win against England saw them advance to the all-important final stages of the World Cup.

South Africa (Win/Loss):
W – Netherlands by 221 runs
W – Scotland by 7 wickets
L – Australia by 83 runs
W – Sri Lanka by 1 wickets
W – Ireland by 7 wickets
L – Bangladesh by 67 runs
W – West Indies by 67 runs
L – New Zealand by 5 wickets
W – England by 9 wickets

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka have had a fine World Cup and have emerged as a real force in one-day cricket. They easily accounted for India and Bangladesh in their group stage before only losing twice; to South Africa in a thriller and to Australia after resting their three best bowlers in what turned out to be a controversial decision.

Sri Lanka (Win/Loss):
W – Bermuda by 243 runs
W – Bangladesh by 198 runs
W – India by 69 runs
L – South Africa by 1 wicket
W – West Indies by 113 runs
W – England by 2 runs
W – New Zealand by 6 wickets
L – Australia by 7 wickets
W – Ireland by 8 wickets

Players to watch
For Australia, Matthew Hayden is in scintillating form. Only a year ago it looked like his one day career was over – now he is favourite for the Player of the Tournament award. He has scored 580 runs at 82.85 and doesn’t look like slowing down. Captain Ricky Ponting is not far behind, equal second on the list of total runs for the World Cup with 480 at an average of 80. He is full of class and is a magician with the bat. Bowlers Glenn McGrath and Brad Hogg have each had a tournament to remember, both defying critics in their own way with 22 and 19 wickets each. Wildcard Shaun Tait has also taken 19 wickets and his raw pace and firepower may be the difference for this Australian side as they try and achieve what no other side has done before – a third consecutive World Cup.

New Zealand
Shane Bond has set himself apart from the other bowlers in this World Cup. With 12 wickets at 12.83 each, he intimidates batsmen with his pace, swing and accuracy. When his captain needs a wicket, he turns to one bowler and one bowler only. Shane Bond. If New Zealand are to hoist the trophy in Barbados, it will be off the back of Shane Bond’s efforts. On the batting front, another player who had looked down and out not long ago, Scott Styris, has had a stunning World Cup and is looking in fine touch. With 462 runs at 92.40, he has been a pillar of strength in the Black Caps line-up.

South Africa
Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis are the two South Africans that scare opposition sides the most. Smith is exciting and daring. Kallis is cool and calm. He can and often does, play a match-winning innings for his side and country. When they fire, opposition sides must watch out.

Sri Lanka
A lot can be said about the three stalwarts of Sri Lankan cricket; Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Sanath Jayasuriya. They are the three greatest cricketers Sri Lanka has produced and they have constantly performed during this World Cup and throughout their careers. However it was the lesser known Lasith Malinga with his unique action that set the World Cup alight against South Africa when he took four wickets in four balls for the first time in international cricket. He is young, electrifying and raring to be let loose against the top sides this week.

Cricket Web Predictions

The coming semi-finals have the potential to be the greatest ever. With history and form behind each side, on their day any of them can win. That said, Australia should have the edge over South Africa on the slower pitch in St Lucia with spinner Brad Hogg playing a vital role in those conditions. The Sri Lanka Vs New Zealand game will go right down to the wire with New Zealand expected to get the edge, ensuring an Anzac final between the trans-Tasman enemies, Australia and New Zealand.

1st Semi-final – Sri Lanka Vs New Zealand, Sabina Park, Jamaica, 24th April
2nd Semi-final – Australia Vs South Africa, Beausejour Stadium, Saint Lucia, 25th April

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