The difference between Pallekele and Colombo, apart from pollution, is that the pitches in the two cities have given us wide contrasts in terms of competition. While the former provided an insane flat-track, one where bowlers showed up only to be bullied, the capital city gave us more unpredictability. In terms of anticipation that is, what with Pakistan and India locked in battle for semis qualification for the better part of Tuesday.
The equations in Pallekele were simpler. West Indies only needed to win, and then let mathematics do the trick. Sri Lanka were quite ahead on run-rate and would have been bothered only if things got messed up royally. Given the English penchant for being devilled at the slightest hint of spin, that was always a long shot, and hence the smooth sailing for the cricketers from the Caribbean.
The only needle here in were New Zealand and how they managed to force two Super Over eliminators will continue to bamboozle fans for a long time. Maybe they were more ferocious a side than results indicate, we will never know.
Colombo fixtures were unpredictable, just as the weather forecasts for this past week. It didn’t rain as suggested, well it did, just not while the matches were on. India and Pakistan together in one group provide a recipe for uncertainty and that is how it panned out. Did
anyone foresee India winning two of their three Super Eight games - four of five matches in total? How many anticipated Pakistan to fight back from the dead after South Africa’s bowling had them in trouble?
Australia provided their shades of improbability too. Shane Watson is a front runner for man-of-the-tournament award and should be given a Superman cape as a prize. However that doesn’t take away from their middle order’s inability to prop up when needed. That Pakistan has got them covered has been evident for a while, but the way George Bailey and company struggled against spin surely sends out ideas to other opposition as well.
Then there are the Proteas, who fell so low that they didn’t even need to choke to crash out of the tournament. No, the match against India doesn’t count because there was nothing at stake, maybe except Faff du Plessis’ personal pride. In smacking the Indian bowling all over the park, not only did he make a point to his captain AB de Villiers, he made sure his IPL franchise boss N Srinivasan would take notice as well.
Forget the national colours, it will probably also mean a longer run for him at the top of Chennai Super Kings’ order.
And so we are left with four standing. While all of them are here deservedly, Pakistan have made a habit of it. They have now reached the semi-finals of every ICC World T20 hosted so far and if you don’t think them contenders, then your loss.
Sri Lanka will argue this point deeply and they should, for there is very little separating the two sides. Both have a good balance of spin and medium-pace bowlers in their attacks. Perhaps batting will provide the differentiation herein, for Pakistan can be mercurial and foolish – almost an off-shoot of inexperience – at the same time.
As much as Sri Lanka would like to exploit that weakness, they shouldn’t get carried away themselves. Their own batting is quite top heavy and Pakistan surely won’t deploy spinners from both ends to open their bowling this time around. If Tillakaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara fall cheaply, the hosts will be chasing the game and even the expected raucous crowd will not deter Pakistan hopes thereafter.
The second semi-final will be a re-match of their first round encounter, and despite Australia nicking that one thanks to two fine gentlemen Duckworth and Lewis, they do not hold the upper hand. Quite simply because West Indies got the top tournament score in that game and probably would have defended it given the Aussies’ middle-order frailties, that is if they had gotten past Shane Watson and Mike Hussey.
If Watson is a big player for the Aussies, words fail to describe Chris Gayle’s enormity in this match-up. If he gets going, even Watson’s histrionics will not be able to counter him. But if he doesn’t fire, that will put immense pressure on the frail Windies mindset to score a huge upset. Already their bowling is proving to be too thin, never mind what Sunil Narine can or cannot do. They do not possess a potent enough spin attack to blow Aussies out of the water just as Pakistan did. And in that lies the true potential of this fixture!
The pitch at Premadasa – slow and low – will play its part, while the grounds men will keep a watchful eye on the clouds as well. It once again proves that Colombo has been quite tough to predict in the last three weeks. As to which two teams will play the final on Sunday, one is not willing to take a punt.
© Cricket World 2012
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