World Twenty20 plans begin here
Friday, November 25
Start time 2000 (1600 GMT)
Twenty20 might have become the origin of everything that is bad (or good, depending on your affiliation) about cricket, but the international Twenty20 game has had almost no role to play in that development. Consider these stats: we have had 32 Tests so far in 2011 and 139 ODIs - a number inflated by the World Cup, no doubt - but only a piddling 19 Twenty20 internationals. Comparing that number against the 74 fixtures IPL 2011 alone had, gives you even better perspective of the space T20Is occupy.
T20Is have been reduced to irrelevant one- or two-match series, shoe-horned at either end of long bilateral tours. The stakes are so low that teams don't take these games seriously. A part of the reason is the quirky scheduling of the World Twenty20. Initially planned as a biannual event that would lend context to the format, it made three London-bus appearances in four years, before hibernating out of our conscious. The next edition will be held in September 2012 in Sri Lanka, and teams will want to start drawing up plans now, after a year dominated by the World Cup and a clutch of marquee Test series.
Sri Lanka haven't looked like winning anything in the longer formats since the World Cup. Indeed, they have lost all their Test and ODI series since then. However, in that same period, they have been unbeaten in Twenty20s, and are in the middle of an impressive sequence of five successive wins. They will be desperate to extend that run and build momentum in the lead-up to the World Twenty at home, even as they seek succour from their reversals in the other formats.
Pakistan have always impressed in Twenty20s, a six-match losing run last year notwithstanding. They have won the World Twenty20 once, and made the final and the semi-finals on the other two occasions. Their fortunes next year will hinge on how the team responds to Misbah-ul-Haq's leadership. His safety-first method has been an unequivocal success in the Test and ODI versions, but it remains to be seen whether it will work in Twenty20s.
Pakistan: WWLWL (most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWWWW
Watch out for …
Misbah-ul-Haq is now known for his equanimity as much as his poetic forward defence. He has moulded the Pakistan side in his own image, leading to the increasing popularity of the hash-tag #TeamMisbah on Twitter. When he first announced himself, Misbah was anything but the obdurate middle-order milker that he has become now. He lit up the inaugural World Twenty20 with a bunch of audacious innings that took Pakistan to within a shot of glory. Which version of Misbah will be on display in this game?
At various points during the tour Tillakaratne Dilshan has looked tired, indignant, sad and frustrated. By the end of the ODI series, with his form and his side's fortunes in a seemingly terminal slump, his dominant expression seemed to suggest resignation. The chance to thrash it around in the shortest format should lift his spirits; on Friday, no one will question his shot-selection if he gets out playing those loose on-the-up heaves.
In Mahela Jayawardene's absence, Sri Lanka might be forced to open with Dinesh Chandimal, unless Upul Tharanga gets a look in. Given his poor ODI form, that is unlikely.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), 2 Dinesh Chandimal, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Chamara Silva, 5 Dimuth Karunaratne, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Jeevan Mendis, 8 Dilruwan Perera/Kosala Kulasekara, 9 Thisara Perara, 10 Lasith Malinga, 10 Dilhara Fernando
Pakistan have 14 fit players in their squad, of which Abdur Rehman and Sarfraz Ahmed are almost sure to miss out.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Farhat/Asad Shafiq, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Umar Akmal (wk), 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Shahid Afridi, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Aizaz Cheema, 10 Umar Gul, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Stats and trivia
- There's a Pakistan traffic-jam at the head of the list of leading wicket-takers in the format. Shahid Afridi has 53, followed by Umar Gul (47) and Saeed Ajmal (45).
- Dilshan is one of only five T20I centurions. Jayawardene is another, but he isn't around for this game
"It will be a new game on Friday and a change of format, so I hope the players lift themselves."
Tillakaratne Dilshan hopes a change in format will lead to a change in fortunes
"He still has a lot of cricket in him and just needs one innings to get back in touch."
Misbah-ul-Haq backs Shoaib Malik to come good soon
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo