MUMBAI, March 19 (Reuters) - Three ‘M’s in the Sri Lankan bowling attack will give most batsmen in the World Cup some sleepless nights as the showpiece event enters the business end with the quarter-finals from next week.
Unorthodox paceman Lasith Malinga, experienced off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis have proved to be one of the most potent attacks in the competition.
Malinga’s knack of churning out yorkers at will, coupled with wily Muralitharan’s wicket-taking abilities might tip the scales in Sri Lanka’s favour at key moments in the tournament.
Add to that Mendis’s mysterious “carrom ball” -- a delivery, released with the flick of his middle finger which turns a bit like an orthodox leg spinner after pitching -- and Sri Lanka have a bowling attack that has enough variety to make life miserable for the most famed batting line-ups.
New Zealand’s batsmen realised exactly that in their final group-stage match on Friday when they were shot out for just 153 while chasing 266 for victory.
Incidentally Sri Lanka’s only defeat in the group stages -- against Pakistan -- was when Malinga was out nursing a sore back.
Most teams in this World Cup, barring South Africa, seem to have an one-dimensional bowling attack with teams depending either on their pace attack or their spinners for breakthroughs.
But the Sri Lankan bowling seem to have both departments covered and they possess an uncanny knack of picking up wickets at all stages of an innings.
Malinga can strike with the new ball or the old reverse swinging one with the same amount of precision while the spinners have been most potent during the middle overs.
Captain Kumar Sangakkara knows his team’s strength perfectly well.
“New Zealand is always a very competitive side... A very well-balanced and a very smart side... They always do very well in World Cups or big tournaments so we never take them lightly,” Sangakkara told reporters after the win.
“But we kind of understand that they find the variation in our bowling attack bit troublesome.
“So we try and maximise on that fact but at the same time we try and make sure that we put good totals on the board. I think they find Mendis, Murali and Maliga quite difficult.”
Sangakkara’s observation could be applied to all their remaining opponents in the World Cup.
Hence Muralitharan’s hamstring injury on Friday against New Zealand will probably be Sangakkara’s only worry ahead of their quarter-final match.
“We will have couple of days off first and make sure the guys recover very well. Pay as much attention as we can to Murali’s injury and get him up on his feet for the next game,” Sangakkara said.