Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, World T20 2012, Group C, Hambantota September 17, 2012

'Favourites despite history of losses in finals' - Jayawardene

The Sri Lanka captain believes that despite a poor recent record in finals, the team has done well in big tournaments

South Africa may be the perennial underachievers at major tournaments, but two days after AB de Villiers confronted the chokers tag head on, the 'C' word was uttered again, this time by Mahela Jayawardene on the eve of his side's first group match. It has been a question thrown to him repeatedly in the lead up to the World Twenty20. Three major finals in five years, yet no trophies. Is there a pattern to Sri Lanka's failures at the final hurdle? Are they simply buckling under pressure?

Based merely on statistics, it might appear that way. In the last five world tournaments, Sri Lanka have been one of the most consistent sides, with a semi-final exit to go with the three sets of runners-up medals. Since 2007, only Pakistan have played four semi-finals. Sri Lanka were talked up as serious contenders from the start in each tournament in which they made it to the final. It suggests they have played well through the tournaments but failed to perform in the finals, none of which have been close. 

But beyond the numbers, there is truth to the notion that Sri Lanka have simply been outplayed by better sides in the crunch encounters. In 2007, Australia still had Matthew Hayden and Glenn McGrath in their ranks, and Adam Gilchrist unleashed a furious 149 in Bridgetown. Pakistan surged late in 2009 World Twenty20, and Shahid Afridi shone with the bat after Mohammed Amir and Abdul Razzak had bowled brilliantly. Last year, Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni orchestrated a near-perfect chase. In each of those matches there was no major failing on Sri Lanka's part, no significant dip in performance - they were simply bested by extraordinary cricket from the other team. 

"A lot of people have asked us whether we've choked in the finals," Jayawardene said. "But I'd rather be in that position that getting knocked out in the first round or second round. We're doing some thing pretty good in these big tournaments. We're handling pressure well and getting into those situations where we can win the tournaments."

This time, with the World T20 being played at home, the expectations have been more intense. Already Sri Lanka are being tagged as favourites, perhaps in the absence of any other side that fits the bill better. South Africa may be the best team in the world, but they are yet to win a big tournament; India have a perceived weakness in their bowling attack as Pakistan have in their batting; Australia have hit a low in the rankings; West Indies are unproven against stiff opposition and England have recently been abysmal in the subcontinent. All this has heaped pressure on the hosts, and though the line most often trotted out by captains is that everyone has an equal chance in Twenty20, George Orwell might retort that one side's chances are more equal than the rest. 

"Sri Lanka is a cricket crazy country and the expectations will be high. We have to accept that."
Mahela Jayawardene

While most teams have downplayed their chances and stressed the fickleness of the format, Sri Lanka seem more comfortable with the pressure. "We're one of the favourites. We're part of a pack and if we can get good momentum, we could go all the way," Jayawardene said. "We can't play the hype down because we are playing at home. Sri Lanka is a cricket crazy country and the expectations will be high. We have to accept that."

The first step is entry into the Super Eights, and a victory over Zimbabwe in their first match will go a long way in ensuring that. Sri Lanka may have preferred all their matches to be in more familiar Colombo or Pallekele, but they must deal with a trickier venue in Hambantota, which has hosted low-scorers in the past. 

"The first time we played in Hambantota, it was tough for us on the newly-relaid pitch," Jayawardene said. "The wind is a bit of a factor as well - it can pick up in the afternoon and evenings so you need to adjust for that. We've played a bit of cricket here, so we'll try and make use of this advantage with the conditions."

The World Twenty20 has never been won by its host nation. Over the next three weeks, Jayawardene's men will hope to reverse two trends.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 18, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    5 semi finals for Pakistan since 2007 2007 WT20 Finalists. 2009 ICC Champions Trophy Semi-Finalists. 2009 WT20 Winners. 2010 WT20 Semi-Finalists. 2011 WC Semi-Finalists.

  • Gerald on September 18, 2012, 12:36 GMT

    What's with Sri Lanka and calling themselves favourites? It's just going to look bad if they don't, which is more likely than them winning.

  • Kunal on September 18, 2012, 12:08 GMT

    Pakistan vs Afghanistan should be a cracker of a contest should Pakistan make through to the super eight.

  • Dark on September 18, 2012, 11:57 GMT

    Sl out from first round with losing against ZM & SA. Who bat first will win at Hambanthota.

  • upali on September 18, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    Mahela, pls tell Munaweera and Dilshan to paly ... First two overs TEST cricket Etght to ten....50 ODI cricket 11- 20,,,,, T20 cricket This way you Guys going to win this ...

  • Satish on September 18, 2012, 8:49 GMT

    @mahjut : That is what i mentioned. If Pakistan play their best, they will any team even if they play their best cricket. They are inconsistent but still, dangerous when they get their act together. 2009WC was the example. How one sided was the semi's and the finals. Even in 2011 WC, it needed a worst innings from Misbah and as usual ugly slog dismissals of Afridi and Umar to trigger a self destruction of Pakistan. And, i am Indian ever since my birth. It doesn't necessarily need to be citizen of one nation to praise them. Especially being a fan of a sport.

  • mahjut on September 18, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    "pakistan's best vs anyone else's best would see pakistan the winner" - you a pakistani by any chance!? PK have a good team and in the unlikely event they make the semis, you'd have to rely on them to get it together two games in a row. Exciting team but mainly for thier inconsistencies. there can't be favourites in this form - anyone from the top 8 test playing nations could take it ... with a little luck...

  • Dummy4 on September 18, 2012, 8:23 GMT

    Agree there can be no "favorite" tag for this tournament, the fact no host nation has won proves it's "fickleness". Fact is any of the 7 teams gets its A game on for two weeks they can win. Key players and talismans need to fire. K Pollard, S Raina, Dilshan, L Taylor, D Warner...these players have the opportunity to bring silverware to their country single-handedly.

  • Hitesh on September 18, 2012, 7:31 GMT

    SL are favourties to pack up after group stage!! They are part of the pack that will not paky in the next round!!

  • Satish on September 18, 2012, 6:53 GMT

    I don't think SL are favorites. In fact if i want to name a favorites, i would name Pakistan as one because if they get their act together they can beat any team even if the opponents play their A game. Pakistan's best vs any other opponent's best will see Pakistan a winner. WI will come a close second with their power hitters and experience in global T20 competitions. Apart from them, no team can be termed as favorites kind. SL are certainly a team to beat with their competition. I predict a sure semi slot for them. From then, they would want history to take a side step.

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