It's do or die for Kiwis, Lankans

It's do or die for Kiwis, Lankans

Losing team faces elimination

Having established themselves as early favourites for a semifinal spot from Group B in the Champions Trophy with their comprehensive 55-run win over South Africa, Sri Lanka were cut to size at the Wanderers on Friday by an England side that cashed in on familiar conditions.

Consequently, the Lankans now face themselves in a must-win situation when they take on New Zealand, again at the Wanderers, in their final league fixture on Sunday. Victory will all but secure a semifinal berth; defeat almost certainly means early elimination.

“It’s not as if we haven’t been in similar situations in the past,” said Kumar Sangakkara, adding, “We have handled such pressures quite well too.”

The game is crucial for the Kiwis too. Overpowered by the hosts in their opener, New Zealand need to win to keep their chances alive, and will welcome a move away from the sub-continental type of track that proved their undoing in Centurion against South Africa.

Sri Lanka have been let down by their two most experienced players, the 40-year-old Sanath Jayasuriya and international cricket’s most prolific wicket-taker, Muttiah Muralitharan. With scores of 10 and nought, Jayasuriya must be feeling the heat, particularly at this late stage in his career.

Murali has figures of one for 106 from 18 overs in the tournament, including one for 60 in the defeat to England in a game where the Lankans missed a trick by not playing the extra seamer.

The supremely pacer-friendly surfaces at the Wanderers will test the Lankans’ character, as much as anything else. With Ian Butler almost certain to return to the playing eleven after recovering from a stomach bug, Shane Bond will not necessarily have to plough a lone furrow, further highlighting the magnitude of the task that lies ahead of the Emerald Islanders.

On paper, the overwhelming psychological edge lies with Sri Lanka, who not so long back toyed with Daniel Vettori’s side in Tests and one-dayers back home. That might have counted for something if this game was at Centurion. Considering it is not, the contest assumes a whole new dimension.

New Zealand’s top-order had come a cropper in Sri Lanka and did precious little against South Africa on Thursday to suggest it is on the mend. With so much on the line, Sunday will hardly be a classic, though it should make for compelling viewing.