Christchurch, Feb 13: Camps with contrasting moods — New Zealand brimming with confidence and Sri Lanka searching for consistency – launch the cricket World Cup on Saturday. New Zealand, co-hosts with Australia, have their tails up after a 4-2 domination of Sri Lanka in a recent warm up series followed by a resounding warm-up win this week over tournament heavyweights South Africa.
Sri Lanka followed their New Zealand losses with a defeat to lowly-ranked Zimbabwe, although throughout their period acclimatising to New Zealand conditions they have been without their ODI ace Lasith Malinga. The 31-year-old bowler has the X-factor and he will make the difference, according to Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews. Senior New Zealand batsman Ross Taylor rates the round-arm quick “the best death bowler probably who has ever played cricket”. Also Read: ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 Schedule in IST: Time Table, Fixture & Venue Details of all WC 2015 Matches.
But despite the spectre of Malinga, who returns after six months sidelined by an ankle injury, New Zealand remain favourites to set the tournament alight with a home win and are widely regarded as potential finalists. [Read Full New Zealand Squad here – Team New Zealand for ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: Team Profiles and Full Squad List of New Zealand Players for ICC WC 2015.]
“I don’t know if we’d be favourites, but everyone’s saying we’re a good shot. If we go in with a positive mind frame and we know we can beat any side on our day then that’s a good thing. If we go out and perform as we should we’ve got a big chance,” said wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi. New Zealand have developed into a well-balanced unit over the past year and are not fazed by the inconsistency of the Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum opening partnership. Coach Mike Hesson believes if they fail at the top then it simply provides a chance for someone else to step up down the order.
Kane Williamson and Taylor have been in impressive form at three and four as have Ronchi, fresh from an unbeaten 170 against Sri Lanka, and all-rounders Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott. They are also laden with talent in the bowling department, able to call on various combinations using Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, and Mitchell McClenaghan with Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum providing spin options.
Swing master Boult wrapped up his World Cup preparations with a five wicket bag against South Africa on Wednesday with Brendon McCullum and Williamson both producing half centuries. Sri Lanka have made no secret of the fact they need Malinga with his round-arm action and pin-point accurate yorkers to complement the exceptional batting talents of Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan.
The 1996 champions and runners up in the past two tournaments in 2007 and 2011, are formidable when everything clicks but that has not been happening for them without Malinga. Mathews sees Malinga as “probably” the difference between Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
“You can’t write off the rest of our bowlers, we have fairly experienced bowlers, but obviously Lasith has the X-factor,” he said. [Also Read – Team Sri Lanka for ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: Team Profiles and Full Squad List of Sri Lankan Players for ICC WC 2015.]
Sri Lanka’s batting strength is headed by Sangakkara, the leading ODI run scorer in 2014 just shading Mathews and both well clear of the third highest scorer, India’s Virat Kohli. Lahiru Thirimanne, Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal add depth to Sri Lanka’s batting line up although in recent times they appear unable to all fire at the same time. Malinga and spinner Rangana Herath head the bowling attack with all-rounder Mathews along with Jeevan Mendis, Thisara Perara and Nuwan Kulasekara sharing the middle overs. ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 Schedule: Complete Fixtures & Time Table of all Cricket World Cup 2015 Matches.