COLOMBO, March 4 – Defending champions Australia insist they have a plan to tackle Sri Lanka's record-breaking Lasith Malinga in Saturday's mouth-watering World Cup clash.
The co-hosts are considering playing all their three spinners — Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath — but Australia captain Ricky Ponting said his team is braced for all potential threats.
"We have played a fair bit against Malinga over the years. Obviously he had a great game against Kenya, so he was one of the main focuses in our team meetings and we talked about the right ways to tackle him," said Ponting.
The 27-year-old Malinga took a career-best 6-38, including his second World Cup hat-trick, against a Kenyan side bamboozled by his unique slingshot action.
"Malinga’s bowling in the middle overs with the older ball was particularly good, so we have to make sure he doesn’t take wickets but we still can’t focus on one of their bowlers," said Ponting, whose team is chasing a fourth consecutive World Cup title.
These two sides met in the World Cup final in Bridgetown four years ago with Australia winning by 53 runs on the Duckworth-Lewis formula, a controversial end to the showpiece occasion that finished in virtual darkness.
Malinga played in that match, taking 2-49 in his eight overs.
Since then Australia have lost quality players Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Glenn McGrath while Sri Lanka can take heart from a one-day series win in Australia last year.
Ponting said the spin threat posed by Sri Lanka can also be dealt with on a R. Premadasa stadium pitch where the ball hasn’t spun much.
"The first game they had there was a really high-scoring one and didn’t really favour the spinners as much as they would like," said Ponting, of Sri Lanka’s 11-run defeat against Pakistan.
"Sri Lanka were one of the favourites coming into the tournament and although they lost against Pakistan, that didn’t change anything about them, they are a skilled and well-drilled team.
"Everything points in the direction of a good game on Saturday," said Ponting, whose team have so far beaten Zimbabwe by 91 runs and New Zealand by seven wickets, stretching their World Cup win streak to 25 successive matches.
Australia have beaten Sri Lanka in six of their seven World Cup meetings, with their only loss coming at Lahore in the 1996 final.
Even if Sri Lanka employ a spin-trap, Ponting insisted Australia will look to their three in-form seamers, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait.
"I made it really clear at the start of this tournament that I don’t care who we’re playing against or where we’re playing, if we get these three guys playing as well as we can, then it’s going to be hard work for any team batting against us," Ponting said.
Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara urged his batsmen to show some improvement.
"The real negative for us from the Pakistan game was that we lost a bunch of wickets in a very short space of time and against Australia we have to look at that, keeping wickets and building partnerships will be important," said Sangakkara.
"It’s a big game for us and hopefully we can keep improving, make sure everyone does well enough to beat Australia."