At home, Sri Lanka are near unbeatable. There is recent proof of this, when in the 2011 ODI World Cup, they reached the finals without as much as breaking a sweat. With the ICC World Twenty20 2012 coming to their backyard, there aren’t many people who will bet against them.
There is some difference between the two tournaments though. Of course there is the format and how Sri Lanka figure in that sense as compared to the competition is something that needs to be tackled a bit later. The foremost difference is in leadership.
Kumar Sangakkara led them in 2011 and a year later it will be Mahela Jayawardene stepping out for the toss. While the two stalwarts have got leadership covered between them, it is in a way also representative of the fact that Lanka do not have another option at the moment. Yes there is Angelo Mathews and he will be fulfilling the vice-captain role. But this brings in another angle to this quandary.
If they want Mathews to lead one day, shouldn’t he have been brought through the ranks in such a manner by now? Even so, wouldn’t it have been better to try him out as a captaincy bet in this ICC World T20 2012? After all, the tournament is being played at home and these are conditions where this Lankan side will seldom be tested. Hence a punt could have been taken on Mathews' leadership skills. There will be many teams in the fray that have different captains from other formats and these players also lack experience at this level. This was Lanka’s chance of assuring a smoother transition in the future.
There can be an argument made, however, that after losing the ODI World Cup, Sri Lanka want to bring home the trophy this time. Hence they did not bother with too much experimentation. It is quite logical to think so, for everything else is gunning for the hosts. Why fix if it isn’t broken?
They have a batting order that can compete with the best opposition in any format. Tilakratne Dilshan and Jayawardene form an intriguing opening pair, and are propped up by Sangakkara and Mathews in the middle. Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeevan Mendis and Dinesh Chandimal do not boast of a lot of international experience. But that is valid more for Tests and ODIs, and in T20 cricket, they could still do the damage lower down the order. Perhaps key for them in providing final bursts or even upping the tempo during the middle overs will be Thisara Perera.
It goes without saying that they possess a major weapon in Lasith Malinga. Elsewhere he might be reduced to a one-trick pony, but the T20 arena is tailor-made for his short, lethal bursts. However that is a major drawback in itself. He has just four overs to make a difference and although he can very much change the course of a match in just 24 balls, the Indian batting line-up has recently showed that he can be tamed.
In that light, Mathews’ role becomes important once again. Forget captaincy, he will have to rise to another level to hedge Lanka’s challenge in this tournament, one that many think he has in reserve. Rangana Herath will be their lead spinner whilst Perera and Ajantha Mendis will look to provide support to the bowling as a whole.
On the whole, Sri Lanka will prove to be a major threat and will be favourites to reach the semi-finals atleast. From there on it is anybody’s game and even the non-sub-continental teams can have their day. South Africa in Group C will provide ample test to that claim. But outside of this equation, the hosts will only be under threat from their neighbours. Everything taken into consideration, it is India and Pakistan that they must be wary of the most. Perhaps even West Indies who will be in their Super Eight group if things go as per plan.
2012 – LLW
June 1st: beat Pakistan by 37 runs
June 3rd: beat Pakistan by 23 runs
August 7th: lost to India by 39 runs
Previous Tournament Performances
2007: Eliminated in Super 8 stage of the tournament
2009: Runners-up, losing to Pakistan by 8 wickets at Lord's
2010: Semi-finalists, losing to eventual champions England by 7 wickets
Group C: Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe
September 18th: Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe at Hambantota (1930 Local Time, 1400 GMT)
September 22nd: Sri Lanka v South Africa at Hambantota (1930 Local Time, 1400 GMT)
Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Angelo Mathews (vice-captain), Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Lahiru Thirimanne, Jeevan Mendis, Dilshan Munaweera, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal (wicket-keeper), Shaminda Eranga, Akila Dhanajaya.
© Cricket World 2012
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