Treble Seeking Aussies Face One Final Challenge
A World Cup which has drawn criticism for too many lack-lustre matches badly needs a spectacle from Australia and Sri Lanka in Saturday's final at the Kensington Oval.
It should get it from the meeting of the world's top batting side, undefeated in 28 World Cup matches stretching back to 1999, against the game's most unusual bowling attack.
The tournament, which has been played out over almost seven weeks, has struggled to attract crowds and atmosphere and featured too many one-sided games to capture the imagination of the Caribbean and sporting public.
But with the favourites, big-scoring Australia seeking their third consecutive title, up against their closest challengers in a vibrant Sri Lanka side, a full house in Barbados should finally get a contest worthy of the occasion.
The Aussies have the most daunting top-order line-up in the game, packed with quality run-getters, superbly adept at the quick scoring required in the one-day game, but if there is any bowling attack which could unsettle them it is Sri Lanka's.
The unorthodox, slung pace bowling of Lasith Malinga and the challenging off-spin of Muttiah Muralitharan ensure that even batsmen of the calibre of top World Cup run-scorer Matthew Hayden and the classy Australia captain Ricky Ponting will need to keep their wits about them at all times.
Although Australia beat Sri Lanka in the second-stage Super Eights, they did not come up against Malinga, who was injured, nor Muralitharan and experienced swing bowler Chaminda Vaas who were rested for that game.
Ponting, who simulated facing Malinga when using a bowling machine in practice on Friday, said the pace bowler was a clear threat to his side's unprecedented hat-trick target.
"He will be a key with the new ball, that sort of wicket will probably seam as well with a bit of extra bounce and carry," he said of the lively Kensington track which, more than any at the World Cup, has offered something for quick bowlers.
Sri Lanka, winners in 1996, rely heavily on their top-order batsmen, including the veteran Sanath Jayasuriya and captain Mahela Jayawardene for their runs and Ponting will be hoping his pacemen can get an early breakthrough if they bowl first.
In Shaun Tait, Australia have the fastest bowler of the World Cup while 37-year-old Glenn McGrath, playing his last game before retirement, is the tournament's top wicket-taker with 25 scalps and will want to end on a high note.
© Reuters 2007