In-form Sri Lanka gear up for all-round Australia
Sunday March 8, 2015
Start time 1430 local (0330 GMT)
Australia's quicks are fast and fit. Their batsmen are explosive. They might not quite be New Zealand in the field, but they take their catches, make crucial saves. All this might daunt Sri Lanka, who are once again outgunned. But it hasn't. Sri Lanka are still speaking of "peaking at the right time" and making incremental advances. They have three wins on the trot. Even if they have lost more players to injury in the past 10 days, than they have lost wickets in matches, they feel their campaign is picking up traction.
As good as Sri Lanka feel following comprehensive victories against Bangladesh and England, Australia have appeared the more cohesive unit through the tournament. Importantly, their key players have form too. Mitchell Johnson took four wickets against Afghanistan. Mitchell Starc turned the New Zealand match almost on his own, in Auckland. David Warner has recent runs, as does Glenn Maxwell. The class of Michael Clarke and Steven Smith do not take much to rouse.
Both teams now have enough victories under their belt to make quarter-final progress somewhat straightforward. Whichever team wins on Sunday will secure a quarter-final berth, and the other will be left to beat Scotland in the coming week to place themselves in the knockouts. An Australia defeat also means they are likely to face a semi-final against New Zealand in Auckland rather than a home game Sydney.
Victory on Sunday will also raise chances of finishing higher up in the group, which appears likely to be an advantage, the way the other group is unfolding. Both captains say they are not thinking of whom they would prefer to face in the quarter-final, but it is likely they will want to avoid India and South Africa for as long as possible.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWWLW
In the spotlight
Wherever he is in the batting order, wherever he plays in the world, Lahiru Thirimanne has found ways to contribute while other young batsmen have failed to string together significant scores. He had not been at his best during the tour of New Zealand, but in four
World Cup innings so far, he has two fifties and a career-high 139. The big tournaments appear to draw the best from him, but his form will be tested by a high-quality attack in Sydney. If he can sustain his good run, easing pressure on Sri Lanka's seniors, the top order will likely continue to prosper.
Aaron Finch was the primary architect of Australia's mammoth score against England, on the World Cup's first day, but since then, he has been short of time in the middle - due to poor weather, as much as poor strokes. Finch has generally preferred faster tracks and quicker bowlers, as the statistical breakdown of his career lays out. He will be desperate to resume run-making after two scores below 15, but the Sri Lanka attack may prove a challenge for him on a dry deck.
There are inklings Australia were caught off guard by the dryness of the Sydney deck, leading to suggestions Shane Watson may return to the XI for this match, while Xavier Doherty looks likely to play his first match in this World Cup. Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood are the men most likely to make way.
Australia (probable): 1 Aaron Finch, 2 David Warner, 3 Steven Smith, 4 Michael Clarke (capt), 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Shane Watson/Mitchell Marsh, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 James Faulkner, 9 Mitchell Johnson, 10 Mitchell Starc, 11 Josh Hazlewood/Xavier Doherty
Sri Lanka are without Dimuth Karunaratne, who is out of the tournament, and Rangana Herath, who is out of the match, and will necessarily have to make two changes. They may consider playing two spinners, and four specialist bowlers in all, but since Tillakaratne Dilshan has been bowling effectively over the past two weeks, Angelo Mathews may push for another 8-3 combination, banking on Dilshan, himself and Thisara Perera to get through 20 overs. With a number of right-handers in the Australia top order, new-entrant Seekkuge Prasanna has a greater chance of playing than Sachithra Senanayake, if only one frontline spinner gets to feature.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Lahiru Thirimanne, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Mahela Jayawardene, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 7 Upul Tharanga/Sachithra Senanayake, 8 Thisara Perara, 9 Seekkuge Prasanna, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
There is a small chance of rain on Sunday afternoon, but the forecast is largely encouraging. The pitch, as Michael Clarke has said, appears to be slow and spin-friendly. The captain that wins the toss will likely want to avoid batting second on the surface.
Stats and trivia
Sri Lanka have not defeated Australia in World Cups since the 1996 final. There have been four wins to Australia and a washout in that time.
Sri Lanka have, however, won six of their last eight completed ODIs at the SCG.
Kumar Sangakkara is the only batsman with two hundreds in the tournament. Sri Lanka are also the only side to have hit five centuries between them.
Mitchell Starc has 10 wickets at an average of 9.30 this tournament
"The players know where we stand, we don't need to talk about it. We have to be focused on tomorrow."
Michael Clarke on the importance of Sunday's encounter.
"I don't think the toss will be that crucial because the wickets are very good, and we've seen teams getting 300 or 300 plus. Those targets have been chased."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews