Australia Have Measure Of Other Semi-Finalists
Only one team can go into the World Cup semi-finals starting in Jamaica on Tuesday knowing they have the measure of each of the other contenders in Caribbean conditions.
Defending champions Australia out-scored South Africa, their opponents in St Lucia on Wednesday, on an ideal batting pitch and short boundaries in St Kitts.
The contained the Sri Lankan batting on a lifeless track in Grenada then took the New Zealand pace bowlers apart on the same surface. Sri Lanka, the 1996 champions, meet the Kiwis in the Jamaican semi-final.
Having more than proved their point on the field, Australians have also indulged themselves in unsubtle pre-match propaganda against South Africa, who have a habit of getting it wrong at the World Cup.
"Last time we played better than them and you could tell by the looks on their faces they were intimidated by us," opening batsman Matthew Hayden told the Sunday Mail.
"I definitely sensed that. It is an edge which comes from years of beating them. It was just body language. You could feel that they could feel it."
The holders have enjoyed recalling the 1999 tied semi-final between the teams - when Australia advanced thanks to finishing higher in the standings in the previous round - and have pointed out that South Africa have twice fallen victim to rain rules at the World Cup.
The propaganda battle has also started in Jamaica where New Zealand plan to exploit the bouncy Sabina Park on Tuesday with an attack strengthened by the return of fast bowler Shane Bond and all-rounder Jacob Oram.
"The Jamaican pitch is going to have a bit more bounce and seam than we've experienced everywhere else in the West Indies, so I know a few of the guys at the top of the bowling order are keen to extract some sort of bounce," Oram told reporters.
"If that's the case hopefully we can expose them. I'm not saying they can't handle the bounce but, like a lot of the sub-continental teams, it's pretty foreign to them."
Oram's words will not disturb the Sri Lankans unduly, especially since they beat the Black Caps in the second round. As New Zealand vice-captain Daniel Vettori pointed out in Grenada, Sri Lanka more than hold their own in their frequent visits to the two Pacific islands and they hope to welcome back strike bowler Lasith Malinga after injury.
Malinga took four wickets in four balls in the narrow Super Eights loss to South Africa.
Tuesday's semi-final will be a test of New Zealand's resolve after they were crushed by a record 215-run margin by Australia last Friday.
"We're a dangerous side, even more dangerous now that we've got two games to win," said captain Stephen Fleming.
With Malinga's expected return, Sri Lanka possess an attack for all seasons, including the world's best spinner in Muttiah Muralitharan.
Spin bowlers have never featured heavily in South African teams and they are certain to play an all-pace attack in St Lucia. Their main hope of upsetting the world champions lies with a potentially potent batting line-up, who reached 160 without loss against Australia in St Kitts before falling apart.
© Reuters 2007