Thursday 5 April 2007 

Trio With Best-Balanced Attacks Set The Pace

Three sides with attacks best equipped to deal with the varying pitch conditions at the Caribbean World Cup are setting the pace in the race to qualify for the semi-finals.

During a two-day break near the halfway stage of the second round defending champions Australia head the Super Eights standings on run rate with six points.

Sri Lanka, who have played four games to Australia's three, are second with New Zealand third. The Kiwis also have a game in hand over Sri Lanka.

Australia have the raw pace and late inswing of Shaun Tait at the one end of the spectrum and the unorthodox left-arm spin of Brad Hogg at the other. In between there is the unvarying accuracy of Glenn McGrath and Nathan Bracken's increasingly impressive left-arm pace variations.

New Zealand possess Shane Bond, whose command of the fast bowling arts would earn an approving nod from the old master Richard Hadlee. Their counterpoint to Bond is left-armer Daniel Vettori, the best pure finger spinner in the world while all-rounder Jacob Oram and Scott Styris purvey intelligent medium-pace.

Then there is Sri Lanka who present the pace of Lasith Malinga, the intelligence of left-arm medium-pacer Chaminda Vaas and the peerless Muttiah Muralitharan. The trio received an accolade from Australia vice-captain Adam Gilchrist on Wednesday.

"I think the balance Sri Lanka has shown at the moment in the bowling seems to be the one thing that is really standing out," Gilchrist told reporters.

"They have got the pace, the guile and the skill of Vaas and Murali who's undoubtedly the best spin bowler in the world at the moment. I guess they're the ones who are making people stand up and take notice."

TESTING TIMES

Gilchrist was speaking before England's gallant if ultimately unsuccessful bid to beat Sri Lanka exposed cracks in the Asian team's attack with Malinga showing his inexperience and even Muralitharan looking disconcerted in the face of a late assault by Paul Nixon which included a reverse sweep for six.

Sri Lanka meet New Zealand and Australia in their next two matches in Grenada which will give a better indication of their ability to replicate the feat of their 1996 World Cup winning side.

The fourth prospective semi-finalists are South Africa who have a dangerous batting line-up backed by a posse of pace bowlers but no class spinner. Apart from Hugh Tayfield, who was essentially a flight bowler, there has never been a great South African spinner and this historical weakness could come back to haunt them.

West Indies, the fourth team with Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka to bring two points through from the first round, have fallen apart in the Super Eights.

After dismal performances against Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, the hosts have a mathematical chance of qualifying for the semi-finals on April 24 and 25 but they need to win their remaining games against South Africa, Bangladesh and England and hope other results fall their way.

England have one more game to play than West Indies and can still theoretically finish with 10 points and a semi-final spot. The three-times finalists lifted their game significantly against Sri Lanka with easily their most disciplined bowling of the tournament.

Despite their efforts in the field, though, England's top-order batting fell away and it is difficult to see them beating both Australia and South Africa even if the other results go their way.

Bangladesh and Ireland are predictably making up the numbers.

While Bangladesh draw consolation from being the second Asian team in the second round ahead of former champions India and Pakistan. The triumph of Ireland is that they qualified at all for the Super Eights ahead of three test nations.

© Reuters 2007

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