Focus on cricket in opening game
September 18, 2012
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT)
There is no big bash planned for the opening of World Twenty20 in Hambantota, no music concert, no fireworks and no trapeze artists. But, there is a cricket match and both Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe are likely to be grateful that they, not a sideshow, will take center stage.
Cricket can be their only focus because in a short group stage, like this one, an early slip up could end their campaign even as it begins. That fact is probably scarier for Sri Lanka than it is for Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka are expected not to slip up, especially because the tournament is taking place at home and their reputation as runners-up was given a fresh unveiling at least year's fifty-over World Cup. Their time for going one better is thought to be now. Despite changes to coaching staff and personnel and a patchy recent record in T20 cricket, Sri Lanka is still seen as one of the favourites and they would hope to show why against Zimbabwe.
For Zimbabwe's coach, Alan Butcher, and his charges, this tournament is nothing more than an opportunity. It is a chance to show that they are still active on the world stage, even though they have not been on it for almost eight months. It is a chance to show that they are still producing talented players and have the capacity to nurture that talent. And maybe, just maybe, it is a chance to achieve something that no-one would think them capable of.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LLWLW
Watch out for
There are few finer sites in cricket than Lasith Malinga, hair bobbing to the rhythm of his steps, running in, pecking the ball on its way through to the base of the stumps. With the opportunity to see him in whites a thing of the past, watching him in the shortest form has to suffice. As Sri Lanka's joint highest wicket taker in T20 cricket, with Ajantha Mendis, Malinga can be as destructive as he is delightful and with Sri Lanka challenging for silverware on home turf, you can expect both in overload.
Sandwiched in-between a man in fine form, Hamilton Masakadza and the captain, Brendan Taylor is Vusi Sibanda. He has completed his return to the team after a spat over his choice to play grade cricket instead of domestic cricket at home but has been overshadowed by Masakadza and Taylor. Sibanda is an attacking strokeplayer, who has learnt to play the short ball with as much force as the full one. He will also have to play the key role of holding the top three together to ensure Zimbabwe can challenge with the bat.
A slightly new-look Sri Lanka XI is possible with Dilshan Munaweera likely to open the batting alongside Tillakaratne Dilshan and offspinner Akila Dananjaya - both set for debuts. That will mean Mahela Jayawardene will bat at No.3. The middle order is solid and the bowling varied, with two frontline spinners in Dananjaya and Ajantha Mendis.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Dilshan Munaweera, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Mahela Jayawardene, 4 Kumar Sangakkara, 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Nuwan Kulasekara, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Ajantha Mendis 11 Akila Dananjaya,
An impressive top three gives way to a shaky Zimbabwe middle order but their alternatives are few. Only Forster Mutizwa could replace Craig Ervine or Stuart Matsikenyeri but their experience would likely see them turn out for the first match. It will probably be a choice between Elton Chigumbura and Malcolm Waller for the allrounder's role. Zimbabwe have three frontline spinners in Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer and Ray Price and Price is the likeliest to miss out if they chose to play three seamers.
Zimbabwe (probable): 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Brendan Taylor, 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Stuart Matsikenyeri, 6 Elton Chigumbura/ Malcolm Waller, 7 Prosper Utseya 8 Graeme Cremer, 9 Richard Muzhange, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu
Pitch and conditions
With heavy gusts expected in the afternoon and evening in Hambantota, some steadying adjustments will have to be made all round. Matches there have been low scoring, largely because the surface area of the field is larger than the MCG, but the boundary rope is being brought in for this tournament. The pitch is expected to have something in it for the seamers, so much so that Brendan Taylor said he does not expect much turn. Temperatures are expected to be warm, between 26 and 28 degrees Celsius, with up to 80% humidity but little chance of rain.
Stats and trivia
"Having looked at the wicket I'm pretty confident that it will be much better than what it has been, and there should be plenty of runs."
Sri Lanka's captain Mahela Jayawardene expects a high-quality surface in Hambantota.
"We've got some good strikers in the top order, some good spinners and young, talented fast bowlers that will bowl well at the death. If we get those things right, it will be tough for Sri Lanka."
Despite his team being regarded as clear underdogs, Brendan Taylor is bullish ahead of Zimbabwe's first match of the tournament.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent