Sri Lanka and Pakistan in familiar territory
October 4, 2012
Start time 1900 (1330 GMT)
Pakistan didn't know until late on Tuesday night whether they'd have to keep their hotel reservations in Colombo for a few more days. But when South Africa's Robin Peterson gloved a ball for a single to take the score to 122 against India, a roar went around the Premadasa. It sounded as though Sri Lanka were playing, but the noise was from a legion of Pakistan fans who were celebrating their team's progress to the semi-finals on net run rate, at India's expense. There wasn't much separating the two sides, but Pakistan were better placed because they got their tactics right and won big against Australia earlier in the evening.
Spin has been Pakistan's strength in this tournament and their captain Mohammad Hafeez used his resources astutely. If that meant giving a rookie spinner the new ball and making the most experienced fast bowler wait till the 18th over, then so be it. The plan was to suffocate the Australians with turn on a sluggish pitch and it worked to such an extent that even Shane Watson had a rare, bad outing. The fielders made Australia's qualifying target of 112 seem distant. As a result, Pakistan play their fourth World Twenty20 semi-final tomorrow, but unlike on Tuesday, they will not have the lion's share of the support.
Sri Lanka are familiar opponents for Pakistan. The hosts were the more dominant side when Pakistan visited in June-July. Sri Lanka looked a more settled side in the Super Eights, making heavy weather of the chase against New Zealand (which culminated in a Super Over victory) and trouncing West Indies and England. The return of Ajantha Mendis has given their spin attack more bite and the seamers, Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara don't offer respite.
It's ironic though that the semi-final is Sri Lanka's first game in Colombo during this World Twenty20. They love playing at the Premadasa and the pitch - not as quick as the ones Pakistan played on in June - should suit their spinners. Sri Lanka haven't had a world title since 1996. They are two games away from breaking the drought, at home.
Form guide(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWWLW
Watch out for
Spin v spin: Opening with spin has become the norm for Pakistan. Will Hafeez adopt the same tactic against Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene, who are fluent players of slow bowling? Hafeez, Hasan and Saeed Ajmal conceded only 53 in 12 overs and took all seven wickets that fell against Australia. The two Mendises - Ajantha and Jeevan - have played vital roles for Sri Lanka as well, and they also possess a largely unknown quantity in Akila Dananjaya.
Something's got to give for Shahid Afridi. He has looked a shadow of his old self with the ball, while as a batsman he remains unreliable. His three wickets in the tournament are at odds with his reputation for running through line-ups. Afridi still gets the odd delivery to grip and beat the bat, but Pakistan need more from him. His star value may not have diminished, but his wicket-taking and match-winning ability has.
Mohammad Hafeez didn't drop any hints of team changes. Pakistan wouldn't want to disturb their winning combination.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Hafeez (capt), 2 Imran Nazir, 3 Nasir Jamshed, 4 Kamran Akmal (wk), 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Abdul Razzaq, 8 Shahid Afridi, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Saeed Ajmal, 11 Raza Hasan.
Mahela Jayawardene stopped short of saying he would captain again after Sri Lanka's smart play-safe approach against England. He didn't hint at team changes either.
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Jeevan Mendis, 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Akila Dananjaya, 11 Ajantha Mendis
Stats and trivia
- Sri Lanka have lost all four Twenty20 matches they've played at the Premadasa.
- Of the 11 matches at the Premadasa in this tournament, only one has been won by the team winning the toss - by Australia against South Africa.
"We may not have won too many finals but getting there itself shows that we have played consistent cricket."
"T20 is all about giving surprises every time you play. We are trying to do that, and most of the time, we are getting some success in that. I have no idea what it will be [tomorrow], but you never know."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo