All-win Australia faces unpredictable Sri Lanka


One of the most powerful hitters of the ball, Eshani Kaushalya (left) is a player Australia will be wary of. (ICC)

When Australia, the five-time titlist, takes on Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on Sunday (February 10), the odds will be stacked heavily against the Sri Lankans. Australia is unbeaten in this edition thus far, while Sri Lanka has blown hot and cold, pulling off two major upsets — against England and India – but also losing two games comprehensively, to the West Indies and to New Zealand, in the lead-up to this Super Six game of the ICC Women’s World Cup 2013.

Despite its undefeated run so far, Australia will be concerned by repeated failures of its batting department, which has only fired in fits and starts. Australia has been overly reliant on its bowlers to bail it out repeatedly — against New Zealand and South Africa in the group stages, and against England in its first Super Six encounter on Friday when it posted just 147.

Alex Blackwell, one of the most experienced players in the Australian side, too voiced her concern regarding the patchy batting. "We need to work on the batting," she said after the two-run win against England. "We are very disappointed with the total we posted against England. But to see us defend 147 gives us a lot of confidence. We’ve let ourselves down with the bat against Pakistan and England. We didn’t chase convincingly against South Africa either. So it is a key area for us."

Repeated rescue acts by the bowlers have the team to victory in all four games in this tournament so far. Megan Schutt and Sarah Coyte, the medium-pacers, were handy against South Africa and Pakistan. The team has an experienced spin department in Erin Osborne and Lisa Sthalekar, who have contributed with the bat too. Schutt and Julie Hunter bowled tight spells against England, also sharing four wickets between them.

Ellyse Perry, who sat out of the England match with a stomach bug, was replaced by Holly Ferling, 17, who returned impressive figures of three for 35. Perry, who has struck with the new ball against South Africa and Pakistan in the group stages, is a vital cog in Australia’s bowling line-up and Blackwell said she hoped Perry would be fit to play against Sri Lanka.

"I would hope she’ll play against Sri Lanka," said Blackwell. "We’ve got some really good depth in our bowling. We saw young Holly today, she’s got some real talent, she really enjoys her game."

Sri Lanka has been a very unpredictable team, but when it has played well, it has played really well. After beating England, the defending champion, by one wicket in a thriller, it pulled off a comprehensive 138-run upset of India. The opening pair of Yasoda Mendis and Chamari Atapattu provided a great start against England and if the Australian bowlers fail to get them early, the duo will prove to be a threat.

The middle-order, comprising Prasadani Weerakoddy, Dilani Manodara and Sandamali Dolawatta, hasn’t been able to capitalise on good starts and that would be a concern for Sri Lanka. In case of a top-order collapse, it all boiled down to the lower middle order of Deepika Rasangika, Shashikala Siriwardena and Eshani Kaushalya, who starred with the bat against India.

One of the most powerful hitters of the ball, Kaushalya is a player Australia will be wary of. Given her wicket-taking abilities too, she has added a new dimension to the side.

"She’s one of the players of the tournament. A very dangerous one, she has very good boundary-hitting abilities," said Blackwell. "She’s one player we’ll have to have really good plans for, work out wisely to contain her. We’re a side that bowls teams out, so we’ll have to come up with plans to get each of them out."

Siriwardena, the Sri Lankan captain, too felt that the team was dependent on Kaushalya for runs and breakthroughs alike. "If Kaushalya doesn’t fire, the team also doesn’t," she said. "She is a huge advantage for us. But I believe the top-order needs to do well."

With a potent pace attack in Chamari Seneviratna, Udeshika Prabodini, Sripali Weerakoddy and Kaushalya and handy spin reserves in Inoka Ranaweera and Siriwardena, the Sri Lankan bowling line-up is at par with the Australian line-up, if not better. Blackwell admitted that her side wouldn’t take Sri Lanka lightly, smarting after its disappointing eight-wicket drubbing against South Africa.

"It’s a different bowling line-up. They have some quality spinners, a little bit more pace off the ball, from what I’ve seen," said Blackwell. "They are a form side, they’ve had some tremendous victories in this World Cup and they fully deserve those. We are certainly not going to take this game lightly."

Siriwardena was optimistic of putting up a good show against Australia and believed her side could pull off yet another upset. "All teams have proved that they can do well," she said. "Australia also won’t think otherwise. They know our capability, how we can play and what we are capable of. I’m sure they won’t take us lightly."

Teams (from):

Sri Lanka: Shashikala Siriwardene (Captain), Sandamali Dolawatta, Chamari Atapattu, Eshani Lokusooriya, Lasanthi Madushani, Dilani Manodara, Yasoda Mendis, Udeshika Prabodani, Oshadi Ranasinghe, Inoka Ranaweera, Deepika Rasangika, Sherina Ravikumar, Chamani Senevirathne, Prasadini Weerakkody, Sripali Weerakkody.

Australia: Jodie Fields (Captain), Alexandra Blackwell, Jessica Cameron, Meghann Lanning, Rachael Haynes, Alyssa Healy, Ellyse Perry, Erin Osborne, Sarah Coyte, Lisa Sthalekar, Renee Chappell, Julie Hunter, Megan Schutt, Elyse Vilani, Holly Ferling.

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