By Goutham Chakravarthi | September 27, 2012
Though the rains in parts of Sri Lanka have been persistent, the tournament is finally gathering momentum with the beginning of Super Eight stages. Insofar only Afghanistan added some colour to the tournament with their brand of brash and volatile cricket. Having seen a few of their players and staff at a restaurant in Colombo, they seemed to be thrilled to be a part of the tournament and seemed eager to do well.
Afghanistan’s progress has been rapid but, as has been seen in this tournament, their cricket still is raw and borders more on the emotional than on the rational. With time, the hope is that they improve their game whilst not losing the flair that has warmed the hearts of many who have seen them in this World Twenty20 tournament.
The heart-stopping tie that Sri Lanka eventually won in the super over is a reminder of the thrills T20 cricket can provide fans, spectators and players. Fists were seen pumping at the end by the batsmen in the middle and their teammates in the dug out. The next moment, the smiles were wiped off their faces when it turned out that New Zealand captain Ross Taylor had managed to knee a run-out off the last ball.
It was an evening where fortune changed sides more often than rains starting and stopping in the southern coasts of Sri Lanka. Taylor’s knee might have aided the match going in to the super over, it tested the umpires and players; and all will be glad for the experience, should they get in to a similar situation later in the tournament.
Earlier, Angelo Mathews and Ajantha Mendis had shaken off their injury scares to make it into the final XI. But the attention was on Akila Dananjaya once his name appeared in the starting line-up. His spin menu included flighted leg-breaks, googlies and offies. In short, it is enough to keep the English team up at night before their game against the Sri Lankans.
However, given the history of off-spinners from the sub-continent whose actions have often been scrutinised, Dananjaya’s might well be questioned.
The theory that established Test nations have worked out Mendis further gathered ground, as he was sent for 48 runs off his four overs — his worst T20 figures coming into the game. Mystery injuries have also clouded the career of this mystery spinner, and how much faith the Sri Lankan management has in him for future games remains to be seen.
Rangana Herath is a very fine bowler after all, and with Dananjaya holding his own even with the onslaught very much on, the management might be tempted to have the experienced Herath back in the team. With the pitch at Pallekelle offering more than enough turn, as was seen in Premadasa in the India-England game, it will not be a surprise to see more teams resorting to spin for both attack and defence.
The batting looked in rich form with Tillakaratne Dilshan finding fluency. Sri Lanka’s side is packed with several allrounders, so there is a school of thought — as Taylor pointed out — that they might lack batting depth and be too top heavy. So far, it has not proved to be a problem with the likes of Jeevan Mendis and Thisara Perera holding their own with the bat. Mathews has proved to be a reliable finisher and Lahiru Thirimanne is proving to be one of late as well.
West Indies and England are the other two teams in the group, and given England’s form against spin in the recent past and their form against India and West Indies, it will be a surprise if Sri Lanka do not find themselves in the semi-finals.
The objective would be to have peaked as a team by then and hope to have a couple of their match-winners in red-hot form. Sri Lanka have found themselves within reach of winning ICC tournaments many times in the recent past, and they will be one of the teams favoured to win.
Mahela Jayawardene’s men displayed the ability to handle the mental side of the game well in the super over finish today, and the hosts will hope to be at the finals this time too in order to have another crack at crossing the final hurdle.
Goutham Chakravarthi is a freelance journalist, podcaster and founder of The CouchExpert.
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