April 6, 2014

This time for Sri Lanka?

They have been the most consistent side in the five World T20s so far, but will they be able to overcome India's strong and versatile batting line-up?

If indeed it's true that third time is lucky, then Sri Lanka are due to win a World T20 final.

In fact there's a good case for arguing that Sri Lanka have been the best international T20 side over the five world tournaments played so far. They have made four semi-finals, equal best with Pakistan, and this is their third final, more than any other side. However, they haven't yet won a final and India will be desperate to make sure that remains the case.

India are currently one for one in finals and what a win it was in South Africa. Not only did it bring great joy to the people of India but it changed the course of cricket history. That thrilling Indian win over Pakistan in 2007 electrified a nation that was previously ambivalent when it came to T20 cricket. This drastic change of heart ensured the enormous success of the first IPL season in 2008.

The wealth and publicity the IPL has brought the players has totally altered the balance of power in the game and resulted in an explosion of T20 leagues. These sweeping changes were like a tornado when compared with the simple rain squall that hit the one-day game following India's unexpected World Cup win in 1983.

Something of a surprise, in a form of the game dominated by power-hitting, is that three subcontinent teams have been the most successful. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India have led the way in World T20 tournaments, and whilst the last two, in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, have been played in familiar surroundings, these teams have also excelled in conditions as varied as South Africa, the Caribbean and England.

Another major surprise in the game has been the success of spinners. The demise of the spinner was widely predicted when T20 first became popular, but it seems that, like Mark Twain, reports of their extinction have been greatly exaggerated.

Why are spinners having such great success, not only in Bangladesh but also in other major T20 tournaments? It could be because they are more accustomed to employing outfielders to buy wickets via the caught-in-the-deep trap. In other words, a spinner is still thinking about taking wickets even when the field is spread, while, in that mode the faster bowlers tend to think more about containment. There's a big difference between those two mindsets and the positive approach is likely to both be more frugal and penetrative.

For captains, it's probably easier to predict where a spin bowler - as distinct from a faster bowler - is going to be lofted by batsmen looking to increase the tempo. And it's also more difficult for batsmen to detect line and length from a spinner's field placings, while a faster bowler tends to tip his hand with the placement of his men.

This is particularly so with death bowling, the aspect of cricket most fraught with danger. The current fad is to bowl wide of off stump and full in length, but this should be revisited as there's nothing like a delivery aimed at the stumps to make a batsman feel restricted.

The 2014 final promises to be a competitive affair. Both teams have good spinners with plenty of variety. Sri Lanka have the advantage in pace bowling, with Nuwan Kulasekara dangerous early in the innings and Lasith Malinga quite capable of applying a hand-brake to halt an opponent's late thrust.

India hold the advantage in batting, with their strong and versatile line-up and captaincy. The trump cards are Virat Kohli, who has developed into a dependable match-winner, and MS Dhoni, with his calm leadership and great finishing ability.

As if to underline the highly unpredictable nature of T20, each tournament so far has crowned a different winner. India will be hoping to become the first repeat winner, and this is the most likely result - unless there really is such a thing as third-time lucky.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist