Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga were deliberately not picked for the Super 8 match against Australia.
There was more than one individual and team, for that matter, voicing that thought as the World Cup enters the final stage. It was not hard to separate the teams that were making it to the semi-finals. After all it was not difficult to decipher which of the teams did not deserve a longer run. In view of that, the battles to watch for the penultimate week were pretty much predictable. Most eyes though were trained on the match that South Africa made it hard on themselves to qualify and the one they had to play out of their skins to make it to a predestined stage.
This was certainly not the best preparation going into the semifinals. Australia though would not be saying that. But their opponents in the final week have suffered a jolt of sorts. Cricket is about mind games as it is about chalking the overs on the field.
Sri Lanka will certainly have one thing to count on should the team and Australia make it to the finals. It will be that Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga were deliberately not picked for the Super 8 match against Australia. That decision of course defied expert opinion where Sri Lanka was expected to play Australia at full strength in order to pocket the two points and stake a place at the top of the table and with the opportunity to ensure they picked the venue of their choice.
Ricky Ponting was clearly irritated at the barrage of questions he had to answer in the post match conference about Sri Lankas ploys. But there was nothing he would complain about on the field. In his opinion, all that mattered at the end of the day was that Sri Lanka had comprehensively lost the game to Australia and that would be psychological advantage enough. Well, he was not entirely off the mark.
Losing can be a dangerous proposition. But to lose once is to concede the winning momentum and more often that not, it is the beginning of unpleasant mind games and the very real danger of actually falling away. This was too close to the end of the prestigious tournament and while Sri Lanka would like to believe they still have not played their best cards to date against Australia, the reality is perhaps that like any top team, Sri Lanka did take the field that day believing in their minds that they still had a shot at beating Australia and perhaps trying to make a point without their bowling numero unos. That did not happen.
While New Zealand has been the hot favourite for this World Cup for sometime now, this was the most horrific way of ending their Super 8s. New Zealand has rarely had an off day. Perhaps the only time the team did have a humiliating rout was against their now semi-final opponents, Sri Lanka. But to have lost as horrendously as a margin of 215 runs, albeit against Australia, would have done no wonders for New Zealands preparation. Being all out for 133 was the worst New Zealand could manage to do in history.
New Zealand may brush it off as one bad day at the office. But it is hard to imagine that they have will have entirely exorcised the ghosts should New Zealand and Australia run into each other into the final. Australia is known to keep down a team that has succumbed to them previously. There is no telling even in a seemingly inconsequential match as this (apart from being a dress rehearsal of a potential final, of course), the damage this outcome would have done. The only thing that would revive this Trans-Tasmanian rivalry would be if New Zealand actually met Australia in the finals and slam dunked them for the rout.
While not much space has been saved for South Africa in this discussion, it is perhaps the only team that has seen both good and downright bad days, which makes them more of a seemingly realistic team, more grounded by their debacles and tough trials while the other semi-finalists had a few dry runs (pun intended). Perhaps this quiet team will make the most ripples when the time is ripe. Whos to say?
Australia may have hit the peak. But ever considered if it was a case of peaking too soon? Perhaps plausibly Sri Lanka and New Zealand sent forth dismissive performances as part of a greater plan to send the Australians into a false state of secure frenzy of their strengths. With all the allegations of why Sri Lanka played down the game, perhaps it is best not to tow that line.