The Sri Lanka strategy against Australia?

Posted: April 17, 2007 in australia, chaminda vaas, jayawardene, Malinga, Muralitharan, sri lanka, strategy, world cup

… or some may say, the lack of it!! Strategy, I mean..!

Maybe I am just too much of a fan of Sri Lanka’s, or maybe I am able to see another perspective, which I present here.

Before that, for those of you who came in late, here is what happened.
Sri Lanka was playing Australia in one of the tougher Super 8 games in the World Cup. Both teams have more or less confirmed their positions in the semi-finals, so it was not a crucial game from the semi-finals point of view. But it was an important game for each team to get a psychological advantage, as they are quite likely to meet each other again, in the semi-finals or the finals.

Then, in what looked like a very strange move, Sri Lanka ‘rested’ their top 3 bowlers, for this game, Muralitharan, Vaas and Malinga. Malinga, to be fair, had not played the previous game too, as he was injured, so we can assume that he still needed to get well. But Vaas and Murali had been playing all along, and of course, performing very well too, and so it was a surprise to not find them in the eleven, for this crucial encounter.

The captain, Jayawardene, explains that these two chaps have had injuries earlier and in order to ensure that they do not develop any problems, and considering that the place in the semis was settled, he chose to rest them.

Experts like Ian Chappell and Arjuna Ranatunga were shocked beyond words. Chappell went to the extent to suggest that the ICC’s anti-corruption cell should enquire with Sri Lanka, as to why they did not play their best team. He was also upset for the sake of the fans, who had come to see the best teams play.

Well, here is what I feel about this matter.

Sri Lanka have a good team, but of course, Australia is a different peak to climb! For ANY team to beat Australia, whether in the Super 8, or in the later knock-out stages of the World Cup, they would need to do something different. Kind of bring in a surprise factor and hope to upset Australia’s rhythm. And Sri Lanka as a team and perhaps with Tom Moody’s inputs, might have worked on this gamble.

Think about it:
1. If, without the key bowlers, Sri Lanka managed to beat Australia, what a phenomenal boost they would have got, and how depressed Australia would have been, in that case,

2. If, without the key bowlers, Sri Lanka managed to take the fight to Australia, and lost, then too, they have a psychological advantage. They tell themselves that ‘they lost because the stars were not there, and yet, without the stars, they gave a tough fight to Australia’! And what does Australia think? That Sri Lanka, minus their extremely good three bowlers, were a handful. What will happen when we meet them again, in the knock-out stage, and when those top bowlers will also be there??

This, in fact, is what happened. That Sri Lanka fought back from being 24-3 to post a total of 220+ was a big thing. At a time when Jayawardene and Chamara Silva were going strong, it appeared that Australia were clearly lost on ideas. Similarly, with a rank ordinary attack, to get Hayden and Gilchrist thinking about the bowling initially, and also picking up both of their wickets early, was also creditable. If Australia wanted to make an impact, they should have been able to take the game with 10 wickets to spare.. they could not do that!

3. All these three bowlers have different styles and are a handful to cope with. For the best of batsmen. There is so much in ‘studying’ their styles on video and there is a different sense of confidence in playing against them, and overcoming the mystery. Not getting that opportunity in the Super 8 ensures that when they meet in the knock-out, the Sri Lanka bowlers start with the upper hand. Why?

– if the batsmen try to be aggressive and aim to dominate say, a Murali, he is quite likely to pick up wickets
– if they play watchfully, they will let a lot of economical overs come and go

This, then becomes the surprise plan that Sri Lanka spring on Australia, and give them their best chance to beat Australia in the semis or the finals!

I think it was a smart move. Also speaks for the confidence that Sri Lanka has. That they were willing to take the risk of losing this game, in the larger interest of winning the tournament later.

I continue to back them to be the ultimate champions this time..! Yes, inspite of Australia’s amazing run. I mean, backing Australia to win does not require any imagination, but thinking that there is a team, in this case, Sri Lanka, who can possibly upset the Australian team, requires a little specific conviction. I have that!!

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