Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st semi-final, World Twenty20, Colombo October 4, 2012

Toil and tenacity take Sri Lanka through

Sri Lanka made their second World Twenty20 final after being through a dogfight against Pakistan

Nothing came easy for Sri Lanka in their semi-final against Pakistan. After five overs, they had made 24 - easily their slowest start of the tournament. An opener renowned for his aggression couldn't find the boundary, heaping inadvertent pressure on the men around him on a difficult track. Kumar Sangakkara rarely looks comfortable attacking, but that's exactly what he had to do from his first ball. He landed a few punches, but was knocked out sooner than he would have liked.

Still, he can console himself that has never made a score so vital for Sri Lanka that superficially reads so poorly on the scorecard. 

Each cog in Pakistan's bowling attack was secure. There were few loose balls and even fewer mistakes in the field. Perhaps Pakistan released some pressure when Umar Gul's final over went for 16, but Gul had done exceedingly well to build up much of that pressure in the first place, in an 18th over that cost just 3. 

In the field, Sri Lanka knew they had to save every run. Lasith Malinga had a shocker, but as a unit Sri Lanka were unrelenting. Tillakaratne Dilshan set the standard when he dived full length to intercept two balls heading for the boundary inside the Powerplay, and the young guns in the circle followed suit. Two or three fielders backed up every throw, and when the ball dribbled into the infield, it was swarmed from every direction. They were defending only 139, but they threw themselves around as if they hadn't even made 100. The result was a Pakistan Powerplay that was less productive than their own. 

Sri Lanka's captain - a man who bats so beautifully his blade appears to be made of liquid - dutifully played an innings that was as ugly as any that he has played. In the fifth over, Mahela Jayawardene ran down the pitch to Sohail Tanvir, looking for his release shot over midwicket, but the heave he ended up playing would have drawn blushes from a rusty gate. Jayawardene top scored for his side, but the channel outside off stump was a battlefield in which he copped repeated blows from Tanvir, but somehow evaded the coup de grace.

In 2009, Jayawardene was having so much trouble timing reverse strokes that he resorted to using the back of the bat to open up that part of the field. Two World Twenty20 tournaments later, those shots brought him more than a quarter of his runs in a semi-final. To look at his strike rate of only 117 is to do injustice to the fire in his innings, and the preparation that had gone into it. He will think the 12 runs he scored with the reverse sweep were more than just reward for all the hours he has spent in the nets practicing the stroke.

Then there is Rangana Herath. A man with spirit so indomitable that being held at arm's length for a decade by the selectors only amplified his drive to deliver for Sri Lanka. Having stared from a distance for so long, what was a few matches in one tournament? He had played only two of Sri Lanka's five games leading into this one, but bowled the over that took the hosts to the final.

Pakistan are said to have a weakness against left arm spin, but Herath has not been among their tormentors. He averages over 30 against them in all forms. Each fresh battle, however, is an opportunity. In two balls he brought Pakistan to their knees. Herath doesn't fret over past injuries, he just puts every ounce of himself into every game he plays. That he returned to make that double strike immediately after having bowled the most expensive over of the innings spoke volumes about his character and the trust his captain puts in him.

Angelo Mathews and Thisara Perera didn't watch from a distance either. The pair had failed to propel Sri Lanka home once in the tournament, but they were determined to finish well with the bat, even if Gul had rediscovered his gift for yorkers. Their 16 off the last over was another crucial factor in Sri Lanka's win. Mathews then returned with the ball to bag two invaluable scalps of his own. Before his second over, Pakistan had built a terrific platform from which to launch and the crowd had lost its voice almost entirely. When he took two in four balls, the Premadasa began believing again. 

Throughout this campaign, Sri Lanka have proved they will not back down when the going is difficult. In the Super Over against New Zealand, there were no boundary balls to hit, yet somehow they managed 13. Under threat of having their captain suspended, the team produced a piece of tactical genius to circumvent the law. In their own home tournament, they are the only team who have had to play at all three venues. The powdery brute they encountered against Pakistan is worlds away from the fast southern seamers they began their tournament on.

In the 2011 World Cup, it was said Sri Lanka had the easy path to the final. This time around, they have scrapped their way there. Every man down to the youngest player has proved himself. The scorecard of the first semi-final may suggest an unremarkable affair, but Sri Lanka know they have been in a dogfight, and the triumph here will add more steel to a side who have been burned at the last hurdle too many times before.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 6, 2012, 0:05 GMT

    I dont care who who wins on Sunday, or who wollops who, as long as India is out of the tournament. Pakistan is not an overated team. How many whitewashes did they get recently? Do not forget they play all their games away from home. Good luck to SL on Sunday.

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2012, 15:38 GMT

    @Nachiappan Rengenath - Pallakale a disaster? Have you been to that ground? See the previous track records before you comment! @ Fast_Track_Bully - Whether home condition or not in a t20 beating the opponents by 16 runs IS a fair bit of margin! And the homeside is under fair amount of pressure if they don't make it to the finals in front of their homecrowd! And pakistan has the best bowling attack and they are very much used to these conditions ! @Harmony111 - When a side lose due to poor umpire decision the impact is effect mainly if it is a world class player like Tendulkar Ponting Gayle Sangakkara etc....and certainly not Jamshed! Especially in this game just 4 runs of 8 balls, like he was playing an innings of his life! And don't insult Pakistan team by saying weak! They have the best bowling line up for these conditions and their record @ Premadasa is good! So a win by 16 run margin is actually good achievement made by Lankans!

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2012, 13:33 GMT

    This tournament got better once India left...

    Who ever wins on Sunday, will be simply because of their better cricket...

    Love for SL Team

  • Dru on October 5, 2012, 11:53 GMT

    Yes it was a wondeful dog fight of a game on a seriously bad track. People assume you need a flat track and six after six to have a good game. If you have two quality bowling attacks on a dodgy track you can still have a good game. SL's intent is in this series is best illustrated by Sanga's attitude. Each time he has come out to bat he has shown an aggressive intent from the first ball. It seems the SL attitude been to go hard and everything from ball one - guess that's why they are in the finals!

  • TARIQ on October 5, 2012, 11:44 GMT

    First of all,,Congrate to SL team and friends,,good win and all the best for the Final. Having said that,,the pitch was a big let down for such a big match,espacialy for T20 match,doesn't matter who won and lost,,this kind of pitch should not have been prepared for such a big match where toss becomes so important that other team just lose half of the match by losing it,,I'm not sure SL would be that happy if they had to bat last on this pitch,,it was a terrible pitch to bat second and fourth if you take the women game as well. ICC should look into this for future tournaments and there should be DRS for all ICC tournaments,,Pak suffered for getting his most in form batter out which wasn't out and that had a great affect on thier chase. Goodluck to SL again.

  • hari on October 5, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    I feel pak is an overrated team. The two best teams in this T@)WC are SAfrica and Srilanka. Unfortunately SA crashed out and SL are deservingly in the finals. Other teams who looked close to these two are vying for the second final spot today. On past records Aussies are the favourites. As SL proved it can be any body's game if you believe in yourselves. The way Mahela used Herath and Mathews shows the confidence he had in them. That sealed the match for SL and Pak had no answer to his strategy. A seemingly easy target was missed by a long margin by PAK. After this big win SL will be high on confidence and it should give a very tough fight to Aussies if they reach the finals.

  • Harmon on October 5, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    What toil is the author talking about? SL got a huge boost when Nazir played on and then Jamshed was shockingly given lbw. On a sluggish wicket a chasing team always looks for momentum and their top two strikers were back without scoring much. It was all luck for SL and no toil. Playing at home, batting first on a wicket that would have gone worse, putting a target for a team that is anyways so weak on batting and even then getting help from the umpire - you call this toil? Ha Ha Ha. Yet another case of overplaying the little success (if any) SL have had. All SL can talk of is their numerous losses in finals - no titles.

  • Patrick on October 5, 2012, 10:14 GMT

    Some of you guys may have a point of thinking how come all top 4 teams play in 1 group and 2nd spot teams in the other. So it should have been 2 top teams and 2 2nd teams in a group. In such case it would have been Eng, Aus, SL & Pak in 1 group and Ind, WI, SA & NZ in the other. SL had already beaten Eng, Pak, WI & NZ in this World Cup, so why can't Sri Lanka make it to the Semi's through that group. Don't be too harsh guys. Sorry for Pakistanis who are way much nicer guys than the Indian team. SL have shown their grit and adaptability against different conditions (only mishap was that 7over lottery) and it hasn't been one man show as for some other teams either. It's been a teamwork right throughout. SL, Now it's time to lift a World Cup. Congrats and All the Best Sri Lanka!!!

  • Manesh on October 5, 2012, 9:49 GMT

    At home, unable to beat opponent comprehensive and celebrating it as big achievement. I cannot see them winning the cup on sunday.

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2012, 9:32 GMT

    @Kuruwita - Those were long time back. Did you have a chance to look at the Indian pitches recently. They are fair to both batsman and bowlers. SL has only one international ground and pallikele is a disaster.

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