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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Our inaugural sport analysis - Preview of the World Cup Final

The eternal Cricket World Cup (all 7 weeks of it) comes to an end tomorrow when Australia take on Sri Lanka, drawing the curtain on what must be the longest tournament in sports history. Cricket, once called "Baseball on tranquilizers" by Robin Williams, has done little to change its image in the last 7 weeks (can anyone name the two teams who played in the first match?).

But before the curtain draws, we have one more game, one more chance to rescue a tournament drowning in mediocrity. Australia, who have steam-rollered all before them, take on Sri Lanka, who, out of the only eight teams who can really claim to be a cricket nation, have looked most likely to upset the canary yellow juggernaut.

Much depends on the toss of a coin, and with the Barbados pitch known to favour seam bowling, Australia appear to have the upper hand (if they didn't already), especially if they bowl first in seamer friendly conditions. This is however doing a disservice to Chaminda Vaas, one of the canniest and most skillful bowlers around. Then of course there is Lasith Malinga, whose hairstyle is only marginally more unusual than his bowling action. I wince every time he enters his delivery stride, for the biomechanics of his bowling action appear to defy the laws of physics. Judging from the way the New Zealand top order played him in their semi-final, it appears that the ball he releases also defies the normal laws of motion.

And facing up to these two Sri Lankans will be Matthew Hayden, who has been majestic this tournament. South Africa tried (and failed) to imitate his approach to batting, though their blind courage and machoism was embarassing when contrasted with his brutal elegance and control. Hayden has demolished every one he has come up against, and if tomorrow's game follows that pattern, with the likes of Ponting, Clarke, Symonds and Hussey (he is playing in this tournament, isn't he?) chipping in, then the four-pronged Australian attack, three of whom sit in the top 4 wicket takers of the tournament, will not even be called into action.

Nor will Muttiah Muralitharan play a significant role in the greater context of the game. For if Hayden has his day, Murali will be bowling inside the first 20 overs, with 130 on the board. And even a return of 2 for 30 from 10 will not prevent Australia from reaching 390. And with their bowling, that will be a mighty difficult task. So much depends on the toss, and much depends on who gets the upper hand in the early exchanges.

Ultimately, however, the problem for Sri Lanka is that they are going up against too much firepower. The above scenario is worst case - Hayden fires, Gilchrist finally comes good, Ponting and Co. chip in, and it's a landslide. But even if Hayden fails, it seems there are still too many weapons later on. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, rely on perhaps four key players, and though the team has collective strength, it will ultimately be overwhelmed by collective dominance from Australia.

Our call - if Aus bats first, they win by 60 runs. If they bowl first, win by 5 wickets.