Can Sri Lanka strike big at home?
Sri Lanka enter the World Twenty20 under more pressure to win the title than usual, and this is only partly because they are hosts. They have failed the final test thrice in limited-overs world events since 2007, and fans are growing weary of the bridesmaids label. The team will assert that they have done well to make it so far, so often, and given their lack of consistency between major tournaments, they may be right - but that does not dim the agony of being repeatedly pipped at the finish.
Even now, some lament the 2011 World Cup final and dwell on the could-have-beens. Perhaps unfairly. There is not much grace for a team who have performed to expectation in crunch games. But their best was not good enough against better teams in previous finals. Unless Sri Lanka can lift their performance to get their hands on that trophy, they will underwhelm fans at home.
The team is also coming into the end of a transition phase, with the young players in the side now showing more skill and maturity. Thisara Perera has been on the forefront of that transformation with the ball, while Angelo Mathews is on the way to becoming one of the game's best finishers. Others like Shaminda Eranga and Dilshan Munaweera will find the current set up a much more stable atmosphere to settle into and than it was twelve months ago when the team was in the middle of a post-World Cup funk. With Mahela Jayawardene set to reassess his captaincy in January, the youngsters must come into their own and reassure the fans that the path ahead is a bright one. What better stage to do that than at a big tournament at home?
Mahela Jayawardene has plenty to ponder even before the tournament has begun. He is largely responsible for Akila Dananjaya's elevation to the national team, but when and how should the 18-year-old be used in a manner that will both aid Sri Lanka in the short term and promote Dananjaya's own development? Beyond Dananjaya, how to manage an attack that relies partly on its uniqueness to be effective, against opponents who may have grown wise to its wiles?
In addition to all this, as the team's best Twenty20 batsman, Jayawardene must also ensure his own game is on song. If Munaweera opens alongside Tillakaratne Dilshan, he will have to play telling innings from a less-favoured batting position.
Shaminda Eranga has shown capacity to impress on a variety of surfaces, and Sri Lanka will require that of their bowlers, as they will have to do well at all three venues if they are to go deep into the tournament. His movement will help at the seam-friendly venues and his pace off the pitch will be handy in Colombo in the knockout matches, if Sri Lanka get that far.
The lower middle order has been Sri Lanka's downfall in limited-overs cricket in recent years, and this tournament shows no signs of reversing that trend. Kumar Sangakkara provides much-needed solidity to the batting from three or four, but aggression is not his game, and with either Lahiru Thirimanne or Dinesh Chandimal set to follow him to the crease, Sri Lanka run the risk of playing one too many accumulators. As was the case in the warm-up match against India, the finishers could be left with too much to do.
World T20 history
Sri Lanka's best World Twenty20 tournament was in 2009, where a varied attack took them to the final, which they lost to Pakistan. In 2007 they faltered in the Super Eights, while in 2010, they lost a semi final to eventual champions England.
In the three Twenty20s Sri Lanka have played in 2012, they have lost two, and won one, but given the infrequency of matches, perhaps their one-day form is a better indicator. They lost four of the five ODIs in a home bilateral series against India, though they had good outings against Pakistan in June and in Australia earlier in the year.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka