Sri Lanka captaincy a guessing game ahead of semi

Sri Lanka v West Indies, World T20, semi-final

The Preview by: Andrew Fidel Fernando 

Match facts:
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Start time 1900 local (13.00 GMT)

Big Picture
Two things are certain in Thursday night’s semi-final. The West Indies players will have the Mirpur crowd eating out of their hands; a jig, happy or otherwise, is likely. And a formula surpassed only by the theory of relativity in complexity will be required to work out who Sri Lanka’s captain is, and what percentage of the captain’s customary tasks he has carried out that day.

Sri Lanks players in a huddle

Sri Lanks players in a huddle

Twenty-four hours before the toss, the team’s official line was that they still did not know who would lead. As long as Mahela Jayawardene is allowed to marshal the team on the field, Sri Lanka fans may not mind if a rag doll was sent to conduct the toss. At least an inanimate object would not do any worse at remembering the playing XI than Lasith Malinga, bless him.

When these teams clashed in the last World T20, the final had been a celebration of flair, but 18 months on, both teams have developed formulae with which to knead the talent at their disposal. West Indies have embraced conservatism with the bat, allowing Dwayne Smith to play as he wishes in the Powerplay, but generally seeking keep wickets in hand to unleash at the back end. As the 82 runs in the final five overs of their innings against Pakistan proved, they have become increasingly adept at this through the tournament. With the ball, Samuel Badree and Krishmar Santokie have been as penetrative as they have been economical, thanks in part to a helpful Mirpur surface.

Sri Lanka have had among the most entertaining trips to the semi-final. They opened their campaign against South Africa who ch… errr, made poor use of a winning position under considerable pressure from the opposition. They brushed Netherlands aside before their bus driver had found a parking space. Then, having hit 189, they lost in dispiriting fashion to England, before orchestrating a rabid defence of 119 against New Zealand. In short, Sri Lanka have been like Pakistan.

Sri Lanka might have preferred a semi-final against Pakistan, because at least they understand how to counter Pakistan’s style of cricket, to some extent. A peaking West Indies unit will cause more worry in their camp, particularly because the wounds of Marlon Samuels’ game-breaking Premadasa assault will have barely healed over. West Indies will be confident they can take Lasith Malinga apart, as they did during that match, so the onus is on Sri Lanka to arrive at an effective strategy.

In the spotlight
If there is one man who can put Sri Lanka in the final through strategy alone, it has to be the team’s best ever tactician, Mahela Jayawardene. He called the shots in the game against New Zealand, spreading fear in the hearts of opposition batsmen by placing a slip and short leg around them, and rotated bowlers masterfully. The whole thing made Sri Lanka fans nostalgic for the days of his leadership, when Sri Lanka played their most attractive cricket since the late ’90s, and inspiring turnarounds against powerful opposition almost became the norm. He is also Sri Lanka’s best big-match player in any discipline. He will be desperate for this match not to be his last in the format.

Darren Sammy has unequivocally been the best finisher of the tournament, to the extent that West Indies’ game plan takes his success at the death for granted. He has come off in almost every game, and sits on a tournament strike rate of 224 and an average of 101. Sri Lanka will also remember the unbeaten 26 off 15 that pushed West Indies’ total from competitive to commanding in the 2012 final, and more recently, the 30 not out from 14 that helped set up West Indies victory in a warm-up match. Sammy v Malinga has the potential to become the defining contest of the match.

Team news
As Dinesh Chandimal has done little to warrant selection in the T20 side over the past year, his availability does not necessarily mean he will play. There are rumours Angelo Mathews will take the reins. There are rumours Lasith Malinga will retain it. There are rumours that no one in the team really knows for sure. They even put up the coach for the pre-match press conference – an event customarily attended by the captain. Normally, such chaos would put elite sports teams off their game, but Sri Lanka are often not sensitive to upheaval. Will it make them play worse? Will it make them play better? No one really knows.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Kusal Perera, 3 Mahela Jayawardene, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Dinesh Chandimal/Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Rangana Herath

West Indies have all their parts in place, well-oiled, humming like a Lamborghini on a Sunday afternoon drive. Their XI is more settled.

West Indies (probable) 1 Dwayne Smith, 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Llendl Simmons, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Dwayne Bravo, 6 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 7 Darren Sammy (capt), 8 Andre Russell, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Samuel Badree, 11 Krishmar Santokie

Pitch and conditions
Pitches have become notoriously difficult to score on at this end of the tournament, particularly for teams batting second. Dew is less of a concern in Mirpur than it was in Chittagong. The weather is expected to be fine.

Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WLWWW
West Indies: WWWLL