SL v Pak, 1st semi-final, World Twenty20, Colombo

Crumbling pitch clouds judgement

The track at the Premadasa had captains unsure what a good total was, and batsmen unsure whether to attack or consolidate

Sambit Bal

October 5, 2012

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A

Mahela Jayawardene and Mohammad Hafeez shake hands, Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st semi-final, World Twenty20, Colombo, October 4, 2012
Mohammad Hafeez couldn't master the tricky conditions, but Mahela Jayawardene did © AFP
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The sight of a wearing pitch can play tricks on the mind. Anything could happen. The ball could spit, snarl, jump, turn, shoot, or could do none of the above. Reading the ball from the hand, or judging the length could mean nothing because the surface could grant the ball a will of its own. Or it could all be a grand deception and batting could be just as easy as the other day.

You see a crumbling pitch in a fixed-over format game, or any game for that matter, and pray that the coin falls your way, and you bat. But it's not as simple. Setting a target can be equally spooky. If it's a knockout match, you want nothing to be left to chance. But what's enough? By aiming high you could end up with too little. But you never want to aim too low.

And do you want to attack the new ball because the pitch might be the most stable then and risk losing wickets up front? Or do you want to save up for the final flourish? And what are your scoring options? Do you forsake the cover drive, your favourite shot, because you can't trust the bounce and the pace? Do you still take on the left-arm spinner?

Pitches and curators have got a lot of praise during this World Twenty20. There has been variety and they have produced interesting cricket. But the ones at Premadasa are beginning to worry. The toss should never decide a semi-final or a final. You could argue the conditions don't change drastically in a match lasting 40 overs. But when you start on a crumbling pitch even a marginal deterioration could be decisive. All forms of cricket should test the skills of batsmen, but no match should be a lottery.

At the completion of Sri Lanka's innings it was impossible to tell what sort of score Sri Lanka had managed. Two days ago Australia ended 32 runs short of 149 against Pakistan, but South Africa, batting in the fourth innings of day came within one run of 152. But then India were playing, incredibly, only one specialist spinner.

The captains were not sure even after the match was done. Mahela Jayawardene thought it was just about par. They would have liked 150 but they knew they could work with 139. Mohammad Hafeez said the target was perfectly chaseable and his batsmen had stuffed it.

Both the captains scored 42. Both opened. The strike-rate wasn't hugely different. Jayawardene took 36 balls, Hafeez consumed four more. But Hafeez batted in fits and starts. His first three runs took 15 balls. Then he hit a four and could have been caught in the deep the next ball. Then he swung and missed. Was beaten again. And then he nearly ran himself out. Four overs later he was dropped again, this time a sitter. Then he swatted a four, reverse-swept another, swung a six that nearly burst through the hands of the fielder at long-on, and then charged down the wicket and was stumped by mile. It seemed like an inevitability.

Mahela purred and motored. There was an early play and miss against Sohail Tanveer and he missed a reverse-sweep that went for two byes, but how quickly he tempered his game to the surroundings. Playing on the up wasn't an option, neither was driving down the ground. Skillful batsmen use the turning on spinning wickets. He swept, reverse-swept, played late, cut, deflected and nudged.

If you carved up his innings and watched it in isolation, he would have fooled you in thinking that batting was effortless in those conditions. The truth is that he didn't let the conditions spook him. Instead, he seemed to relish the challenge and revel in them. It was the most perfect demonstration of a batsman transcending the conditions. Only five of his runs were scored down the ground and five of his seven fours came behind the wicket.

In contrast, Tillakaratne Dilshan, his normally swashbuckling partner, scratched and scratched. His first ten runs took 20 balls. The pitch blunted his cut and thrust strokes, and he couldn't find another game. His dismissal in the 18th over nearly brought relief to the Sri Lankan fans because he was comfortably poised to play the slowest innings for an opener playing out all the overs in a T20I.

But how are we to judge Dilshan's innings in the light of the outcome? That Pakistan went in to the final over with only a mathematical possibility of winning not only deprived the match of the thrill and tension that low-scoring games on tough pitches tend to provide, but it also muddied judgment over Dilshan's performance which, midway through the match, had seemed to have left Sri Lanka at least ten short of a comfortable score.

In hindsight, was it an innings that Sri Lanka needed to keep the innings together? Or was it made to look better by the poor batting of the Pakistani batsmen? Or were the poor strokes from Pakistani batsmen brought about by the pitch that made raising the tempo a dangerous option?

Having earned their place in the final Sri Lanka and Jayawardene, who also captained splendidly, Sri Lanka can ponder these questions at leisure as they watch West Indies and Australia weigh their options on a crumbly, powdery surface.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by akkers5 on (October 7, 2012, 13:23 GMT)

It was a disgusting wicket. How can you play a T20 semi-final where no-one can hit a six (well, there was only one six). This is a blatant abuse of home advantage and groundsman should be ashamed. ICC should take note.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2012, 19:24 GMT)

Lot can be said, but fact is Sri Lanka took full advantage of home soil by selecting such pitch for which they had plan. The pitch and toss did matter. Sri Lanka got lucky to win this as both teams were equal in strengths, in another day Pak would have won it. Congrats to Lanka.

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (October 6, 2012, 1:50 GMT)

Pakistan's bets fast bowler in last year or so has been Junaid Khan so why was not he selected? Pakistan's best batsman has been Azhar Ali. Yes, he is not as glamorous as lets say Imran Nazir but that is a type of batsman Pakistan line up needs. Why was not he selected? Asad Shafiq played one warm match and he scored the highest. Razzaq played one match and he scored 22 off 17 balls that proved difference against Australia so why were they ignored? Shoib Malik and Imran Nazir are a proven failure and they need to go. Afridi has stayed in team because of his bowling but his bowling has ditched him so time to go. Kamran played a fine knock in warm up against India but failed when it mattered so he needs to go, although if he performs he can always make a come back. Gul and Sohail Tanvir needs to be put on notice. Unlike India,Pakistan has backup players and talent to replaced failed ones,Asad Shafiq,Azhar Ali, Hammad Azam, Sarfraz Ahmad and Fawad Alam are ready and available to replace!

Posted by   on (October 5, 2012, 20:10 GMT)

What was lacking by pakistan was position of batsmen I mean there were 3 seemers in SL and pakistani never moved and changed the location in crease to disturb the bowlers as did by Mahela.

Posted by   on (October 5, 2012, 20:04 GMT)

It is always Pakistan who comes under a tricky and ill-suited pitch in big games of ICC events.

At Mohali against South Africa in Champions Trophy 2006, at Jamaica against Ireland in Cricket World Cup 2007 and against Sri Lanka in Semi Final of World T20 2012.

Most notably, it was Pakistan who batted 2nd in two of those three games. First semi final pitch was worst for T20 standards.

Posted by JamesTHEwalldravid on (October 5, 2012, 19:14 GMT)

@Tanmoy Chakravarty, nope, a different pitch was used. Please get your facts right. On another note it will be interesting to see what kind of pitch will be used in the final. If it is like the Pak vs SL match then SL will win, but if it is like today's then my money is on WI. As far as the pitch in the 1st semi final goes it was indeed not a suitable pitch. Many congratulations to SL they played better and deserve to win and I do not want to take any credit away from them. With that said we all know that the pitch favored the team batting first. Also the lbw against Nasir was horrible, but these things happen in cricket so it's ok. I hope we have a great final on a sporting pitch with a little for both bat and bowl. I hope the toss is less significant. If SL win I will be happy. As a Pak supporter I've always liked SL's relationship with Pak and been a fan of their brand of cricket, the likes of murali etc. but I hope WI win because it would be great for cricket in the Caribbean.

Posted by Greenheart on (October 5, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

We shouldn't be sore losers please! we should have no one to blame but ourselves for this defeat. Even if Jamshed got a wrong out, what was the rest of the batsmen doing? Our Batting failed. Period. SL played better than us. Period.

Posted by pradeep_dealwis on (October 5, 2012, 17:26 GMT)

True, a bad pitch. However, don't see wht the Pakistanis would complain. It suited them much more than Sri Lanka. The PAK attack was tailor made for a track like this, and bear in mind they had Ajmal, the best spinner in the world, with the likes of Afridi and Hafeez. SL only ahd Herath, since Medis is more suited to slippery wickets. And by all means, the toss can have little effect in a T20.

Posted by shazzar on (October 5, 2012, 17:09 GMT)

Poor pitch, we should never be playing semi finals on these sought of pitches, ICC should be accountable for this. Having said that, pakistan did not lose the match because of it, they lost it at the toss, pakistan simply can not bat second. With the likes of nazir, afridi, kumran and smalik, this was not the pitch for them. They needed to select there shots carefully and just to try to bat out the first 10-14 overs, which gayle seem to have done today perfectly today.

Posted by applethief on (October 5, 2012, 16:46 GMT)

Sure, it was a bad pitch that favoured the winner of the toss, but don't forget both sides had to play on it. Pakistan's only legitimate grievance can be Jamshed's lbw, the rest of the time they played silly strokes to average bowling and threw away their chance to win the game. If they played the same way and the innings were reversed, I'm sure Sri Lanka would still have beaten us by virtue of not batting like toddlers

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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