Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sri Lanka! Heed my amateur advice!

Hello Sri Lankan cricket team. Congratulations on getting to the finals of the World Cup ahead of your more celebrated South Asian counterparts. Your talent, hard work and ability to perform on the big stage has gotten you this far. And unfortunately this is about as far as you will go. You are up against a team that is playing near perfect cricket, dominating every game and confounding opposition coaches the world over.

On the other hand, you’ve got the hopes of a lot of people – the entire South Asian subcontinent in fact – pinned on you. A lot of us desperately want you to win. That adds up to a lot of prayers – something you will need to win in the finals.

So how do you beat Australia? Can they even be beaten? You can hope for the Law of Averages to kick in, but while waiting for that there are certainly things worth trying.

Don’t target ANYONE
For one, please, please do not try to target Glenn McGrath just because he is the slowest of their pace attack. Ian Bell did it briefly against England but it was a one off. Also don’t go after Shaun Tait – his bad form of late? A thing of the past. He roared in the semis again – and sent a number of South African batsmen scurrying home. So who do you go after?

The answer is no one. Let the game come to you – don’t force it. If you are patient and don’t think ahead too much, you’ll find that Shane Watson will give you plenty of scoring opportunities. And so will Brad Hogg. If McGrath and Nathan Bracken pitch short – you’ll be able to put some of those away. Above all, visualize constructing a big total through singles and twos. It can be done and you have the players to do it.

Bat first and rely on the slower bowlers
Next, bat first if you win the toss no matter what. Even if there is cloud cover. Even if the ball starts swinging during catching practice. These Caribbean wickets dry up under the hot sun. And that will set the stage for your slower bowlers later in the day.

Speaking of which – your slower bowlers are excellent on a slower pitch. If they can get that, please rotate them as much as possible. Both Jayasurya and Dilshan are canny and can tie a batsman down but the Australians are very good. Risk exposing your bowlers for long periods of time and they will work him out. Muralidharan is the exception – the one bowler all your hopes are pinned on. But everyone knows that already.

A last word on bowling: please pick Maharoof and leave out Fernando. This is not to dis Fernando – but “extra pace” doesn’t help with Australia. An in-form bowler who can deliver to his captain’s field is the need of the hour. And Maharoof can do it better than Fernando.

That intimidating Australian batting
Now that intimidating batting line up. Just about everyone in the Australian team has put in good time at the wicket. Matthew Hayden has already registered three devastating hundreds, Ricky Ponting is in sublime form, Michael Clarke has displayed his match winning prowess, Shane Watson played Rambo with the bat recently and both Symonds and Hussey have gotten good wood to ball in the limited opportunities afforded to them. Even Gilchrist, who hasn’t posted a big score, has looked in good nick to me.

Superior shot selection
You may have noticed that the most astounding aspect of the Australian batsmen has been their shot selection. They seem to have an innate understanding of their abilities, the state of the pitch and the capabilities of the bowler. They know which balls to leave, which to defend and which to take a crack at. That this is the key to batting is an obvious thing to say. But it’s worth mentioning the Australians seem to have mastered it here.

So what can you do about that? Sorry, I can’t help you there: if I were that good, I’d be coaching you.

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