New Zealand, who began with fours wins in a row, seemed to be comfortably strolling their way towards the knockout stage but now find themselves at the mercy of weather following a four-match losing streak which began with a four-wicket loss to India.
Now staring at uncertainty, the Kiwis will face Sri Lanka here at the M Chinnaswamy stadium on Thursday for their ninth and final group match. With Pakistan and Afghanistan and New Zealand (currently fourth on the table) all tied at eight points each, the Kane Williamson-led side will hope to come out all guns blazing for a big win to improve their run rate and enhance their chance of snatching the final semifinal spot.
As for the battered Sri Lanka, also playing their last group match, it will be fight to salvage some badly bruised pride before heading back home.
It’s not that their campaign was looking promising from the beginning either but a little over the half-way mark, with four losses and two wins, situation became worse. The 302-run loss against India in their 7th game when the Lankans were bowled out for a paltry 55, while chasing a mammoth 358, pushed them into further misery. First it was the sacking of the country’s cricket board and later it was Angelo Mathews’ ‘time-out’ fiasco against Bangladesh that has left a bitter taste in the mouth.
The 1996 champions, who have looked less than inspiring all through, will hope to free their minds and perform as a unit one last time in an otherwise forgettable World Cup campaign.
Injuries to key players and a few close loses have no doubt dented the Kiwis’ march. However, they will not only garner strength from fighting through adversities but the calm-headed Kane Williamson leading from the front will give the team a much-needed balance in the do-or-die clash. Their bowling attack is without Matt Henry, but Trent Boult, Mitchell Santner and a fit-again Lockie Ferguson (if included in the playing 11) will take charge in a match where a defeat or a washout will prove to be disastrous for the islanders.
Sri Lanka have nothing to lose apart from some more face. But in a clash, where their opponents have to do all the running, the Islanders can upset Kiwi applecart if a few of their players produce their A game. Plagued by injuries, humbled by big defeats and hurt by controversies, it will be one final chance for the likes of Pathum Nissanka, skipper Kusal Mendis, Charaith Asalanka, Sadeera Samarawickrama and Dilshan Madushanka to find some redemption.
Players in spotlight:
Rachin Ravindra has been the toast of the town. Not only because of his Bengaluru connect, but more so because of the firepower from his bat as an opener. The 23-year-old southpaw, who smashed his third century of the tournament here a few days ago, looks solid and well in control of producing another cracker of a show in his parents’ former hometown to help his homeland progress.
With very little to choose from, the one bright spot for the Lankans has been Dilshan Madushanka’s prowess with the bowl. The 23-year-old left-arm speedster has been relentless, charting his own path to be be the highest wicket-taker so far in the tournament with 21 scalps. Come Thursday, his team is sure to back the pacer to add a few more to that tally.
It’s going to be a typical M Chinnaswamy pitch, will full of runs but rain may play spoilsport. The gray clouds of the Northeastern monsoon loom large over the city’s skies. It will not be a surprise if the result of the game is decided by the DLS method.
Form guide (Latest first)
New Zealand: L, L, L, L, W
Sri Lanka: L, L, L, W, W
Squads: New Zealand: Kane Williamson (c), Trent Boult, Mark Chapman, Devon Conway, Lockie Ferguson, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Jimmy Neesham, Glenn Phillips, Rachin Ravindra, Mitch Santner, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Will Young.
Sri Lanka: Kusal Mendis (c), Kusal Perera, Pathum Nissanka, Dushmantha Chameera, Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Maheesh Theekshana, Dunith Wellalage, Kasun Rajitha, Angelo Mathews, Dilshan Madushanka, Dushan Hemantha, Chamika Karunaratne.
(Published 09 November 2023, 03:56 IST)