Sri Lanka v West Indies, World T20, semi-final April 2, 2014

Perennial bridesmaids SL seek to break hoodoo

In the previous eight global tournaments, Sri Lanka made the semis or better six times. They did not win the title even once. Can they be seventh time lucky?

Sri Lanka have an enviable record of success at global limited-overs tournaments. Sri Lanka have an unenviable record of failure in global limited-overs tournaments. These are not two states in binary opposition but simply a choice of perspective. As ever, Sri Lanka came into the World T20 as one of the favourites. That tag may bring pressure but even more unwanted would be another runners-up rosette to go home with.

Including the Champions Trophy, Sri Lanka have reached the last four or better in six of the previous eight events, going back to 2007. The prize has eluded them every time. Their semi-final in this tournament will be a rematch of the final from last time around, when West Indies stole the hosts' thunder. The 1996 World Cup was a defining moment in the history of Sri Lankan cricket but dust is gathering alongside it - and the shared 2002 Champions Trophy title - on the shelf.

"It hurts a lot," was how Mahela Jayawardene responded to the pain after a night of seesawing drama in Colombo less than two years ago. "We need to move on and try and see how well we can get over this and get back on and keep fighting again." Jayawardene is no longer the captain (at least in name) and, like his old comrade Kumar Sangakkara, will retire from international T20s after this competition. They will have a maximum of two more games to "keep fighting" in this attempt to earn a reward commensurate with their illustrious careers.

Sri Lanka's passage to this point has not been as serene as some predicted, although they managed to top Group 1 on run rate. They were pushed hard by fellow semi-finalists South Africa, then ambushed by England on a dew-drenched evening in Chittagong and it required a show of bottle, with Rangana Herath playing the genie, to haul themselves past New Zealand in the final match. For all their success in Bangladesh over the last few months - including winning the Asia Cup - they have not had it easy this time (apart from against the Dutch, that was easy).

Paul Farbrace, Sri Lanka's coach and the only Englishman still left in the competition, believes that the win over New Zealand proves his team will be on their mettle against the holders, whose form is becoming more ebullient by the game. Jayawardene, disconsolate after the 2012 final, was at the forefront again, so pumped up before taking the field in defence of just 119 that "he nearly knocked me out of the way", said Farbrace.

Beating West Indies would put something to rest, maybe, but Sri Lanka would still not be in possession of a trophy. Or rather, a global trophy, because the Asia Cup has already left Bangladesh with a Sri Lankan luggage sticker attached this year. Fear of failure can be self-perpetuating but Farbrace dismissed any thought that Sri Lanka's record of the last few years would have a psychological impact.

"You could look at it that way, you could also say they've done really well in most competitions and got to finals and that's where teams want to be, playing in the big games. I think we had a big win here in the Asia Cup a few weeks ago, we beat India, we beat Pakistan twice and I think that was a big hurdle for the team, to win the Asia Cup, and win it pretty convincingly. The final was a pretty convincing win and I think that gave the team an awful lot of confidence.

"We've had a lot of very close games the last few weeks and when you win them, the confidence you get as a side, you believe you can win from anywhere. The other night, a lot of people would have written us off at the halfway stage against New Zealand but once Brendon McCullum went, you could see the absolute belief in our team that they could win from there. Games like the other night give us so much confidence going into big games, semi-finals or finals."

Farbrace added that "what happened two years ago won't be talked about", though the opposite may be the case in the other dressing room. West Indies also showed their minerals in a virtual quarter-final against Pakistan on Tuesday, recovering from 84 for 5 with five overs of their innings remaining to win comfortably. It was a remarkably similar position to that which they found themselves in against Sri Lanka that last final, at 87 for 5 from 15.3, and triggered another coruscating response.

As in Colombo, Sri Lanka will have the perceived advantage due to the conditions - though West Indies are quite at home on slow, low pitches too. The stunning intervention against New Zealand by Herath, as eye-catching as he is unassuming, has given Sri Lanka "a lovely headache to have" over the selection of their spinners and one that may be resolved by selecting all three - Herath, Sachithra Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis - to take full advantage of the drier Mirpur pitch. But as Saeed Ajmal and Pakistan found out, West Indies are not easily turned over in this format.

"As a team you look for every advantage you can possibly get but I don't think we can hold too much to the fact it is subcontinent conditions," Farbrace said. "West Indies are playing brilliant cricket, they've shown that. They will obviously get a lot of confidence from winning the World T20 in Sri Lanka and they played fantastic cricket [on Tuesday] night, but it really is about who plays well in that three hours of the T20 game, that's the really important thing. It's the team that comes into it with the really good mindset, really prepared to give it a go and leave nothing behind. If you do that, you give yourself a great chance."

Jayawardene has already put a dislocated finger behind him in this tournament, though his batting, which includes an 89 full of reprieves against England, has not been at its most sparkling. Sangakkara is also yet to make a mark, while Tillakaratne Dilshan may be closing in on his final scoop. They will not need a sermon on the difference between success and failure.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Surath on April 3, 2014, 11:51 GMT

    Play Mendis! Thats the key. Play Mendis with Herath!

  • Dinesh on April 3, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    If SL don't bat well, end of the road for the team and the three seniors with T20 ! Best of Luck team SL. You can do it :-) Prove the critics wrong...., Jayawewa

  • ranjana on April 3, 2014, 11:00 GMT

    Both teams are equally balanced in all departments. WI are the current champions and SL are the ICC T20 No 1 ranking team. The only difference is WI have more body strength and SL have more brain strength. In other words WI depend on their fire power and SL depend on their crafty and innovative skills shown throughout the tournament. This is going to be a tight contest between the body and the brain.

  • X on April 3, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    It's funny how everybody labels SA the biggest chokers but Sri Lanka's record in ICC events recently puts them in the shade. Mocking Sri Lanka though is apparently not fair game.

  • Pankaj on April 3, 2014, 8:48 GMT

    Sri Lanka definitely don't deserve to be clubbed with England as perennial bridesmaids. Their performances at least in the finals have been better earned, and - more importantly - England's 1975-1992 run didn't leave any substantial legacy. Here things look different, though its too early to be sure. For all that, Lanka are second-favourites in this match and an upset is hoped for but not expected.

  • Dummy4 on April 3, 2014, 7:10 GMT

    there is a difference between form and confidence @lonermanifesto what he was saying is sri lanka has got the confidence to win the title because we beat India and Pakistan in the Asia Cup,todays match it will depend on how well WI play Sri lankas spinners,and how well Sri lanka bowls to the devastating Windies lineup,Personally i feel Sri lanka can measure up to Windies bowling,Narine is an average bowler and so is Badree but Santokie who bowled a beauty to Shehzad that day might be the key today so we should watch out for him!

  • Andrew on April 3, 2014, 6:12 GMT

    In the last while Sri Lanka have been very unlucky ... South Africa on the other hand have lead to their own downfall on a number of occasions to lose in the knockout phase of the tournaments they have played in. They have failed against Pakistan in T20 and New Zealand in ODIs when it has been most needed.

  • Douglas on April 3, 2014, 3:30 GMT

    West Indies bowling weak? They have the number 1 & 2 20/20 bowlers plus Santokie - and everybody in the team barring Ramdin can bowl - they have options galore such that Rampaul can't find a place. West Indies probably has the strongest bowling in the competition.

  • sam on April 3, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    Dont see hopeless WI deal with Herath,Mendis and of course Maling in 1st place.W/o runs on board forget about dealing with any 1,any thing esp. as weak WI bowl/fielding have no chance vs class of Mahela,Sanga,etc.Waiting for Lankan masterclass v WI spin.

  • Romain on April 2, 2014, 20:01 GMT

    Funny this guy does not reckon history has a part to play, but yet quotes Sri Lanka's victories in the Asia Cup. Without realizing it perhaps, he is pulling a "Faulkner", and we know how the Windies boys deal with that.

  • No featured comments at the moment.