Sri Lanka start overwhelming favourites
Kenya's hopes of repeating their heroics of the World Cup 2003 were swiftly swept aside in the first eleven balls of their match against New Zealand. With that record-loss, Kenya have only one victory in their last six Twenty20s including defeat at the hands of Uganda. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, could be classified as the masters of power-hitting, evident from their World Cup 1996 triumph. Their Twenty20 record has been patchy though, with their last match, a warm-up against Pakistan, ending in a five-wicket loss. A stroll under the Johannesburg sun looks on the cards given Sri Lanka's firepower, even without Muttiah Muralitharan, as Kenya might find it difficult to shake off the shambles they found themselves in a few days ago.
A strong line-up comprising of Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara together with Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chaminda Vaas to provide late cameos (overs permitting), Sri Lanka can expect to put up a decent score if batting first. Expect an exceptionally quick scoring rate if the ball finds the middle of the bats.
Kenya, with a dismal team-aggregate of 73 in 17 overs against New Zealand can only hope that their batsmen have learned from their mistakes. Steve Tikolo, their captain, once again provides the best hope of the team posting a decent target, or surpassing one set by the opposition. Thomas Odoyo, the allrounder, can score a few quick ones with the tail if the situation demands.
Lasith Malinga, with a hugely successful 50-over World Cup behind him, will be more than a handful with his slingy side-arm action. Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando will also be not too far behind as Sri Lanka have plenty of resources in their fast-bowling department. With Jayasuriya, taking the lead in the spin department due to Murali's absence, to follow with his in-the-blockhole left-armers, scoring might prove a bit difficult for the Kenyans.
Not much was on display from the Kenyan bowling side in the seven overs they bowled during their last match, but much rests on the opening duo of Odoyo and Peter Ongondo. Rajesh Bhudia, although hugely unimpressive in his four-ball spell, might be able to sneak a few overs via his gentle pace but don't place your bets on it.
Keep your eyes on:
Sanath Jayasuria, 38 years old but with an ODI strike-rate of 90 (which almost doubles to 174 in Twenty20 internationals), is sure to worry the Kenyan bowlers. A veteran of 398 ODIs, Jayasuriya's timing square of the wicket could prove useful especially with the short boundaries. His two efforts at Twenty20 have brought 92 runs with an unbeaten half-century as well as five wickets. His bowling towards the end of the innings will be as important as his batting at the start of it.
"We will need a lot of cool heads because the game is very fast," Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, had said on his arrival in South Africa. He is staying modest about his team's chances at the inaugural tournament in spite of having big names in the line-up. "It's going to be a challenge because we haven't played much Twenty20 cricket. And the shorter the version of the game, the more open it becomes for other teams."
Pitching it right:
The weather outlook remains warm and sunny and expect plenty of runs with either team batting first. As seen in the match between West Indies and Bangladesh, wayward bowling can be a huge blessing and will not go unnoticed by the batsmen.
Sri Lanka (likely): Upul Tharanga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Jehan Mubarak, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chamara Silva, Lasith Malinga, Chaminda Vaas, Dilhara Fernando, Farveez Maharoof
Kenya (likely): David Obuya, Collins Obuya, Tanmay Mishra, Steve Tikolo (capt), Thomas Odoyo, Alex Obanda, Jimmy Kamande, Rajesh Bhudia, Maurice Ouma (wk), Nehemiah Odhiambo, Peter Ongondo
Faras Ghani is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo