ICC WT20: Pakistan-Sri Lanka Final Preview

ICC WT20: Pakistan-Sri Lanka Final Preview
ICC WT20: Pakistan-Sri Lanka Final Preview
©Action Images / Andrew Couldridge

Pakistan v Sri Lanka, ICC World Twenty20 final, 21st June, 1400 GMT
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By John Pennington

In many ways, it is the perfect final. The two teams who were caught up in one of the darkest days in the history of cricket now face each other in the showpiece finale to what has been a superb tournament at the home of the game. And these are two teams who are well-qualified to go out there and play with smiles on their faces; due to events off the field, for they know full well that cricket is, after all, just a game.

Some of the Sri Lankan squad were both on the team bus in March and were personally affected by the tsunami in December 2004 while the chances of playing international cricket in Pakistan in the future now seems remote due to recent tragic events taking place in that country.

Both teams have played freely, without fear, which might explain why they are the only two outfits left in the competition. Sri Lanka have been all about innovation and unorthodoxy, from Tillakaratne Dilshan's behind-the-head flick to Isuru Udana's bewildering array of slower balls. And we haven't even mentioned Murali, Mendis or Malinga yet.

Pakistan have been, well, Pakistan - mercurial, enigmatic, world-beaters one day, incapable of catching or hitting the ball the next. When it all clicks, as it did against South Africa and the Netherlands, they are as good as any team out there and they have had to be - three straight wins were required to get to the final, and they delivered in style.

In Umar Gul, they have arguably the best pace bowler in Twenty20 cricket, such is his control of his yorkers at the death, and his record figures of five for six against New Zealand were well deserved and it was a beautifully executed spell of bowling.

And in Shahid Afridi, they still have the most potent attacking batsman on the planet and if his bat doesn't talk, his leg-spin is fast becoming as devastating, and certainly more consistent than his batting.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have dared to open the bowling with medium pacer Angelo Mathews, bowled 14 out of 20 overs of spin and aren't fazed by a brittle top order - the top four might have scored nearly all of their runs, but more often than not, a couple of them come off, and if they do, then Pakistan will be in trouble.

Dilshan carried their batting against the West Indies in the semi-final with a stunning unbeaten 96 and when Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya both hit form against the West Indies in the Super Eight, there was no way they were going to lose. Mahela Jayawardene's sublime 78 against Ireland was one of the innings of the tournament.

When the two sides met earlier in the tournament at Lord's, Sri Lanka were given a flyer as Sohail Tanvir lost his radar and they never looked back, going on to win by 19 runs. It is difficult to read too much into that match as Tanvir and Salman Butt have sine lost their places in the Pakistan team, with the exciting Shahzaib Hasan and Fawad Alam coming in.

Where the match could be won and lost

When Sri Lanka bat, Pakistan must make early inroads for two reasons. Firstly, if Jayasuriya and Dilshan are allowed to get themselves in, they are incredibly difficult to get out and they score exceptionally quickly and secondly their middle order has not fired, so once the big four are out, they lack firepower. This just shows how well their bowlers have done to defend any score - Sri Lanka remain the only unbeaten side in the competition.

Another key battle will be how both sides combat the yorker merchants Lasith Malinga and Umar Gul. Malinga has the unorthodox, slingy action and Gul the uncanny knack of getting the ball to reverse from about the 12th over, which is usually just when he is called on to bowl.

Spin is king in Twenty20, and these two sides are loaded with spinners - Sri Lanka can use up to four, with Muralitharan, Mendis, Jayasuriya, and Dilshan all more than useful and beware the side that gets below the asking rate and has to take on Murali and Mendis. Pakistan have a balance, with Afridi backed up by off-spinners Saeed Ajmal and Shoiab Malik while if Younus wants to gamble again, he has the left-arm spin of Fawad Alam to call on.

Likely Teams

Pakistan: Shahzaib Hasan, Kamran Akmal (wk), Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Younus Khan (c), Misbah-ul-Haq, Abdul Razzaq, Fawad Alam, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Aamir

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya, Tillakaratne Dishan, Kumar Sangakkara (c, wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Chamara Silva, Jehan Mubarak, Angelo Mathews, Isuru Udana, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga

Watch Out For

Pakistan: Kamran Akmal's rocket starts - they don't tend to last, but they are entertaining, Shahid Afridi's quicker ball - do not, under any circumstances, try to cut it, and Umar Gul's toe-crushing yorkers - good luck hitting them for six.

Sri Lanka: Dilshan's over-the-head flick - impossible to set a field for, the guile of Mendis, the man who can deceive anyone, despite not actually turning the ball all that much and Lasith Malinga, who if he gets it right, could rip out half a side in one over.

Star Performers

Pakistan: Umar Gul is the leading wicket-taker, Shahid Afridi the leading bar-emptier and Younus Khan the cool, collected leader on the field

Sri Lanka: Dilshan is the leading run-scorer, Angelo Mathews the surprise all-round package while any one of Murali, Mendis and Malinga could win the game

Waiting In The Wings

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq, who performed outstandingly in 2007, has yet to fire but is speaks volumes that Pakistan have not thought of dropping him. The stage is set for him to lay the ghosts of Johannesburg to rest on Sunday.

Sri Lanka: Chamara Silva, Jehan Mubarak, and Angelo Mathews comprise a middle-order that has done precious little so far. They will be hoping they won't have to, but if they are called on come Sunday, one of them has to play an innings of substance. Rarely has a team been so top and bottom heavy but scored so few runs in the middle.

© Cricket World 2009