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Australia v Sri Lanka ICC Champions Trophy preview

Less than a week ago most thought that England and New Zealand were strolling towards the ICC Champions Trophy semi-finals, but it’s all so very different now.

Group A stopped looking like a foregone conclusion when Australia took a point from New Zealand in a rain-affected no-contest at Edgbaston on Wednesday and was then cracked wide open when Sri Lanka made short work of England at the Oval the following day.

Now it’s all to play for in the final round of group matches as England go head to head with the Kiwis in Cardiff today before Australia and Sri Lanka fight it out for the final semi-final spot (though it’s mathematically possible that the Aussies could win and still miss out). Coral expect two close encounters with England (8/11) and Sri Lanka (4/5) narrow favourites, but this tournament is all about momentum and whoever wins these matches will then fancy their chances of going all the way.

Australia, it has to be said, haven’t had much momentum so far and their luck ran out as well in Birmingham when the rains came just when they appeared to be getting on top against the Black Caps. The David Warner incident has put them further on the back foot and one cannot imagine them going into tomorrow’s must-win clash full of confidence and high morale.

Sri Lanka, on the other hand, will be overflowing with it following their win over England. It wasn’t just that the victory kept their tournament hopes alive, it was also the manner of it.

Kumar Sangakkara has been a class act for long time now and he put together a brilliant unbeaten 134 to help hunt down England’s 293. He’s 11/4 to again be Sri Lanka’s top scorer ahead of their other prolific top order batsmen Mahela Jayarwardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan (both 7/2).

Lasith Malinga has been the other big success story for Sri Lanka and is rated a 7/4 chance by Coral to be their leading bowler tomorrow. ‘Malinga the Slinger’ had been written off by many going into this tournament, but though not still the surprise packet he was, he still has the skill and guile to keep the runs down and chip in with vital wickets – he has returned figures of 4-34 and 2-58 so far.

Australia can by no means be written off tomorrow – with or without Michael Clarke, they have some very good operators in this form of cricket and might well be at their most dangerous with their backs against the wall. Stand-in captain George Bailey has been their main man with the bat so far with two scores of 55 (4/1 to top score for the Aussies tomorrow), but we are due a big, belligerent knock from opener Shane Watson (5/2).

Written by Jon Freeman