New Zealand will have to pull off another massive upset to make their first ever ICC World Cup final when they take on Sri Lanka in Colombo.
The first semi-final pits the perennial underdogs against one of the three sub-continental sides still bidding to lift the trophy.
Few would bet against Kumar Sangakkara’s in form side - who thrashed England by ten wickets in their quarter-final at the same venue - from pulling off another convincing win.
Sangakkara will be sweating over the fitness of his veteran off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan who struggled through the match with England.
But his side will be heavy favourites, regardless of whether the 38-year-old is ruled fit enough to take his place in the team.
This is the Kiwis’ sixth visit to a World Cup semi-final and their chances of finally pulling off a vinctory seem highly unlikely unless they can significantly up their game.
The same track will be used for the semi-final as for the quarter-final clash with England - a decision which captain Daniel Vettori described as ‘very surprising.’
Conditions, regardless of the strip used in the R Premadasa Stadium, will be heavily in Sri Lanka’s favour.
Their top four have been particularly impressive in this tournament and are all averaging more than 40 with at least one century to their names.
Sangakkara has an imposing average of 121.00 from his six knocks - three of which have been unbeaten.
New Zealand’s attack strangled a nervy South Africa with accurate spin bowling and some skilful medium pace bowling from Jacob Oram but they will have to find another gear against Sri Lanka.
They can draw strength though from their performance in the field against their opponents in the group stages, where they restricted Sri Lanka to 265-9.
With the bat the Kiwis face a very different challenge with the likes of Lasith Malinga’s late in-swinging yorkers and Ajantha Mendis’ assortment of subtle variations.
Their talented but inconsistent batting line-up will have to put in a special performance if they’re to have any chance of blocking Sri Lanka’s route to the final.
Key Battle – Tillakaratne Dilshan v Nathan McCullum
Off-spinner McCullum took 3-24 and opened the bowling against South Africa and is likely to be asked to do so again by Vettori in Colombo.
Dilshan has hit is stride at the right time, making two centuries in his last three innings and will want to take on McCullum from the start.
It is difficult to see past Sri Lanka as a World Cup final opponent for either India or Pakistan.
The hosts have an enviable mix of youth and experience, orthodox brilliance and idiosyncratic genius.
The Kiwis are far less naturally talented but will pounce on any lax moments by Sri Lanka, who will hope to avoid crumbling under the gaze of their home support.
Murali will be desperate to play a final game on home soil before bowing out of the international game but even if he is unavailable, a New Zealand win would equate to a huge upset.
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