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June 11, 2009
Friday, June 12
Start time 1330 local (1230 GMT)
Is there a team more fascinating to watch than Sri Lanka? Of all the teams that have come into the Super Eights undefeated, none has done it as beautifully as Sri Lanka. South Africa have been too efficient to love, India too imposing (and under-tested) to admire. But Sri Lanka? They have made art in comprehensively defeating Australia and West Indies in the group of death.
No batting order has as many contrasting styles of scoring quick runs, from Tillakaratne Dilshan's get-go bluster (which incidentally he discovered as opener against Pakistan earlier this year), Sanath Jayasuriya's berserker ways, to the silk of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. No attack has as many ways of getting you out, from Lasith Malinga's freaky changes of pace, to the wonderful spin of the two Ms - Murali and Mendis.
It is why they are forever the neutral's favourite for any tournament and why they ought to be outright favourites against Pakistan. The 2007 World Twenty20 runners-up have been sluggish in warm-up losses and a thumping by England almost derailed the whole thing. They did more than enough to dismiss Netherlands from the equation yet still haven't looked an entirely settled outfit. Abdul Razzaq is on his way though is unlikely to feature in the game.
But history doesn't quite allow Sri Lanka to be inked in as winners. As they are likely aware, Sri Lanka's big-game record against Pakistan is appalling. Pakistan haven't lost to Sri Lanka in any World Cup game, 50 overs or less (they beat them in a vital game in the inaugural edition in 2007). In 13 games at big, multi-team tournaments, Pakistan have won 10. In World Cups and Champions Trophy matches, Sri Lanka have only won one out of 11. Just as at the 2006 Champions Trophy, Pakistan sometimes have won when they had no right to - such a shambles they were. So as the best Asian fielding side takes on the worst, predictions will be thin on the ground.
(last five matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: WWLWW
Watch out for
Sri Lanka's bowling attack of four Ms: Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis. With that much skill and variety, preserving a wicket, let alone scoring off them will not be easy. Pakistan played the two spinners with some success earlier in the year, but a big game, with little time to think, is a different contest altogether. Pakistan have only faced Malinga in a limited-overs game once, so the unfamiliarity is still there. It won't have escaped Pakistan's notice either that Jayasuriya has found form again.
Kamran Akmal has been Pakistan's stand-out player of the last few months. It is probably no coincidence that his batting has rediscovered its spark just as his wicketkeeping has - finally - come out of the abyss in which it found itself over the last two years. He is good enough to win a game with the bat; four stumpings against Netherlands and no dropped chances for a while means he may be good enough to not lose one with the gloves.
Sri Lanka are unlikely to make too many changes - why would they, with the kind of form they are in?
Sri Lanka: (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk, capt), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Jehan Mubarak, 6 Chamara Silva, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Ajantha Mendis, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan
Pakistan will tinker; Salman Butt will surely go now, for his fielding if nothing else. Sohail Tanvir seems likely to be free from the back niggle that hampered him against Netherlands.
Pakistan: (probable) 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Kamran Akmal (wk), 3 Shoaib Malik, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq, 5 Younis Khan (capt), 6 Shahid Afridi, 7 Fawad Alam, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Mohammad Aamer, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Stats and trivia
Lasith Malinga, Ajantha Mendis and Saeed Ajmal have all taken 5 wickets each in the two matches at identical strike rates of 9.6. At 5.37, Ajmal concedes the least runs per over. Tillakaratne Dilshan is the leading run-scorer in the tournament
"In this form it is better to take it easy and have fun. It is like WWF."
Pakistan captain Younis Khan after qualifying for the Super Eights.
"He is a genius, what else can I say?"
Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka captain, as eloquent as ever, this time referring to Sanath Jayasuriya.
Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth