Sri Lanka face selection dilemmas
Sri Lanka are expected to be one of the most settled sides in the World Twenty20 as they are the hosts and have held their domestic Twenty20 competition recently. Their approach to the Super Eights however, has been defined by uncertainty. Sri Lanka would have hoped to determine a team combination by the end of the group stage. But that hasn't happened as they were largely untested by Zimbabwe, and can take precious little out of a match against South Africa that was shortened to just seven overs per side.
As a result, the selection quandaries for the match against New Zealand in Pallekele are many. Opener Dilshan Munaweera hasn't set the tournament alight in his two innings, but he hasn't looked entirely out of place either, even if debutant's nerves have curbed his aggression thus far. Having invested so much in him, the team management may not like to let him go so early, but they will also be tempted to post Mahela Jayawardene alongside Tillakaratne Dilshan to comprise perhaps the most proven opening duo in the tournament. If Munaweera is left out completely, a less aggressive Dinesh Chandimal is the alternative. If they bat Munaweera down the order, he will be expected to perform a role that is unsuited to his game and might expose a major weakness - an aversion to rotating the strike.
Ajantha Mendis is Sri Lanka's in-form player, and the side strain that kept him out of the match against South Africa has also put him in doubt for New Zealand, opening a fresh conundrum for the selectors. If unable to play, they may debate to replace Mendis with a similar bowler in Akila Dananjaya, or stay with Rangana Herath, who may not break a game open in a malevolent spell but is still a bankable option.
If Pallekele assists the seamers, Sri Lanka may only play one spinner. If it is also Dananjaya's debut, the pressure of being the only frontline spin option could add to the anxiety of going from tier-three school cricket to a major international tournament in less than three months. A start against South Africa in the group match might have been a better way to ease Dananjaya into international cricket had the Hambantota weather not intervened.
"Dananjaya is certainly very close to playing," Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford said on the eve of the Super Eights opener. "He was probably going to play against South Africa and then the game got reduced and there was the chance he would've been bowling with a wet ball. He was going to get a game there and he's certainly not here just to carry the drinks."
Frustratingly for Sri Lanka, they haven't yet had a close look at the way Pallekele is playing during the tournament. Having arrived from the south, their training sessions have been at the old Test ground in Asgiriya. If Sri lanka progress to the semi-final, they will be the only team in the tournament to have to acclimatise themselves to all three venues. South Africa are the only other team in the Super Eights to have played in Hambantota, but all their matches, including any prospective knockout encounters, will be in Colombo from now on.
"Ideally we would have liked to have had a session down at Pallekele" Ford said. "I think we're the only team in the group that hasn't had a session down there, so that's a bit of a disadvantage. We thought we were going to get a session but unfortunately didn't. A bit hard in Asgiriya because the outfield is not conducive for fielding practice and the nets have got a bit tired towards the end. It hasn't been ideal, but at the end of the day you've got to make what you can of what you've got."
Sri Lanka will be encouraged by the depth and flexibility in their squad, but they will hope to nail down a preferred XI as the tournament heats up. With a competent seam bowler in Shaminda Eranga among the reserves, three bona-fide allrounders in the team, and Dilshan and Nuwan Kulasekara who can also contribute in both disciplines, a formidable side shouldn't be difficult to put together regardless of the conditions. They will want to feel a little more at home in their own tournament over the next two weeks.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka