Sri Lanka goes in to the semi-final of the T20 World Cup to face the West Indies tomorrow at the Oval. This is fitting for a Sri Lankan team who has consistently played to their full potential and as such has been rewarded for their excellence. As they did in 1996 with 50 over cricket, Sri Lanka are redefining the established theory of the shortest form of the game.
They ignore the conventional selection policy of filling the side with powerful hitters at the expense of more conventional batsmen, choosing to have faith in their established players. This logic has paid dividends as the batsmen have shown a remarkable capacity for originality which was thoroughly unexpected given their reputation for convention. From Tilakaratne Dilshan’s scoop over the keeper to Mahela Jayawardene’s reverse sweep using the back of the bat, the only limit to their strokemaking seems to be their own imagination.
With the South Africans again failing to negotiate the semi-final of another major competition, the Sri Lankans will be heavily favored to capture their first international title since the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy. Being the favorites comes with additional pressure but the side appears to be very cohesive and close- knit. It would be expected that the experienced players who have been in finals before will try to ease the pressure off the younger players by preparing them.
West Indies by contrast have no pressure at all on them. Few people predicted they would even reach this far in the competition given their poor showing last month against England. The team though will feel that they have a point to prove in showing that they are as capable a side as any, especially in their preferred format. West Indian fans should flood the grounds tomorrow and they may be a factor in their team’s performance.
A team that on a good day is capable of beating the best in the world, as they showed against India and Australia, the West Indies are plagued by inconsistency. With some of the hardest hitters in the world game, the team will home that someone plays a significant innings tomorrow and the frequent West Indian batting collapse does not occur.
Both these teams have played before in this competition and so they will have had a chance to assess each other on the field. Having won the previous match, Sri Lanka will feel that they have the measure of the West Indians .But considering that both teams were already to the Super Eights stage when they previously met it should be expected that the intensity of this match would be significantly higher. Whether previous viewing of the extremely unorthodox Sri Lankan bowling attack will help the West Indian bowling attack remains to be seen.
In their Group stage match the West Indian Batsmen, like most others in the tournament, had very little answer to Ajantha Mendis. Bowling in tandem with Muttiah Muralitharan he successfully restricted the West Indies and comes into the match with high confidence after having figures of 3-9 against New Zealand. Muralitharan has bowled well in this tournament but has not been having the success he is accustomed to. He may see tomorrow as the perfect time to show that he still is one the best bowlers in the world, regardless of the format, and try to get his own share of the headlines. Their ability to obtain wickets while successfully restricting the run rate remains key to their T20 success.
Lasith Malinga has demonstrated the ability to swing the bowl both in the initial and final stages of an innings, making him a difficult prospect whenever he comes on to bowl. His unerring accuracy when bowling his yorkers is now supplemented by a well disguised slower ball, which has successfully dismissed several batsmen in this tournament. His reputation as an excellent bowler in the death overs has steadily increased and Sri Lanka will be expecting him to keep the runs to a minimum at the end of the innings.
Sri Lanka will depend on Sanath Jayasuria, their most experienced batsman, to make runs quickly in the opening overs. Dilshan and Jayasuria have been successful as an opening partnership so far and will hope to make runs against the West Indies again in this tournament. If the openers get out cheaply then the expectation is that Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakarra will have to bat for the majority of the overs to give Sri Lanka a competitive total.
The top order having a good performance becomes even more critical due to the fact that the middle order has not made significant scores thus far. The lower order has also been unable to get a long knock and in the few games that Sri Lanka lost wickets they did little to contribute to the total. Sri Lanka would hope they would be capable of performing if necessary tomorrow but would perhaps prefer if they were not needed.
For the West Indies an area of concern remains the continued failure of the opening batsmen. The capability of Chris Gayle and Andre Fletcher was evident against Australia but since then they have contributed very little to the totals made by the West Indies. Such is their ability that if they are able to perform tomorrow, then a good innings from either could effectively change the game. The strength of Gayle in particular is a factor that would play on the minds of the opponents.
Dwanye Bravo scored runs against the same opponents and given the form he is in the team would hope he continues to perform. Sarwan spent time at the wicket during that match but it would be more beneficial to the team if he was able to change the pace of his scoring rate more quickly as he did against England. Lendl Simmons is also in good form and seems to be hitting the ball well; whether he performs at the #3 position will be a huge factor in the size of the West Indian total.
Worryingly for the West Indies is the inability to play spin bowling by some of their batsmen. They were successfully restricted by Muralitharan and Mendis previously and their performance against spin bowlers, such as Harbhajan Singh and Robin van der Merwe since then does not suggest an improvement. The lack of footwork by a few of their batsmen leaves them vulnerable to being dismissed bowled or LBW, especially to someone with as many variations as Mendis since they will be unable to get to the pitch of the ball.
Regarded as the best player of spin in the team, Chanderpaul would find tomorrow an ideal time to rediscover his form. Lacking the sort of big scores he is accustomed to, the opportunity to show that he can bat quickly as well as for long periods may arrive against Sri Lanka. If the West Indies are willing to experiment moving him up the order to open with Gayle has been successful in the past and may be a solution to manage the spin threat.
The West Indies fast bowlers performed poorly against Sri Lanka by bowling short and wide, giving Jayasuria the opportunity to cut and pull. A more successful strategy would be to bowl closer to his body and try cramping him for room. It is also important that the bowlers remain unflustered by the unorthodoxy of the batting and maintain a good line and length. Closing the field when Sangakarra and Jayawardene are batting and trying to restrict the singles is a tactic that could also be used in an effort to build pressure and prevent these players from gaining the singles which they thrive on.
Gayle and Benn continue to bowl restrictive spells and good rotation of bowling by Gayle against England prevented the batsmen from becoming accustomed to any one bowler. Simmons four wickets against Sri Lanka earlier would suggest that bowling him for more than one over could be done to see the effects. The slower ball that Bravo bowls continues to make him a large threat at the end of an innings and his ability to make things happen on the field is a plus.
The biggest question in the West Indian camp is the fitness of Fidel Edwards. If he is fit he adds much needed pace and hostility to the bowling attack and possesses the control to finish the innings well as he showed against South Africa. If he comes back into the team then someone will have to be dropped. Considering the adequate performance of Darren Sammy in the last match against England, the continued underperformance of Kieran Pollard would suggest that he is the one to give way.
The bowling of Muralitharan and Mendis would seem to define the outcome of this match. If West Indies are able to score runs from their overs they stand a very good chance of making a large total, this is more likely if they manage to keep wickets intact. This is possible if they manage to get run well and pick up singles instead of being dependant on boundaries as well as using footwork to get to the pitch of the ball. If Muralitharan and Mendis bowl well and manage to take a few wickets then it will leave the West Indies with a lot to do to make a defendable total. The batsmen would have to attack the other bowlers and opens the possibility of being out to risky shots and so further pressuring the lineup. This would also put pressure on the West Indian bowlers.