Sri Lanka seek to avoid early exit

With Afghanistan, Ireland and Bangladesh unable to produce an upset in their opening World Twenty20 matches it is now down to Zimbabwe to shake up the established order

Mahela Jayawardene flicks one over square leg, New Zealand v Sri Lanka, ICC World Twenty20,Group B, Providence, April 30, 2010

Sri Lanka's decision to open with Mahela Jayawardene worked against New Zealand, but little else did  •  Getty Images

With Afghanistan, Ireland and Bangladesh unable to produce an upset in their opening World Twenty20 matches it is now down to Zimbabwe to shake up the established order. And if they do Sri Lanka, one of the favourites for the title and last year's finalists, will be on an early plane home or trying to find somewhere to hang around before the series against New Zealand in Florida.
The idea of Zimbabwe beating Sri Lanka isn't as outlandish as it may sound. They have laid their maker during the warm-up matches with victories over Australia and Pakistan to reinforce the feeling that their game is on an upward curve, even if that graph does remain on a gentle gradient. Coupled with that there is the pressure on Sri Lanka, who know it's win or bust for them.
They were in a very different situation last year when they moved to the final unbeaten, and the defeat against New Zealand was clearly tough to stomach for Kumar Sangakkara. There were a number of stages when they were taking control in the opening match; as Mahela Jayawardene and debutant Dinesh Chandimal were adding 69 for third wicket, when Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya struck in quick succession and when Jacob Oram was bowled.
But unlike the side in England they just couldn't quite find that way to win. Lasith Malinga was unable to defend 10 off the last over as his length, for once, deserted him, and the lack of momentum at the start of their batting effort proved costly. One innings does not change Tillakaratne Dilshan's stats as one of the pre-eminent Twenty20 batsmen, but it continued his poor form from the IPL.
"We were a bit slow in the first six overs, which put us under a lot of pressure," Sangakkara said. "We probably lost a bit of momentum in the first six overs and that was vital to try and kick on and keep the momentum going."
Sri Lanka were one of the most active nations at the IPL with eight of this squad involved for various franchises. It can be a double-edged sword which was shown no more clearly than by the performances of Jayawardene and Dilshan against New Zealand. Jayawardene enjoyed a productive tournament and his form prompted a change in tactics from Sri Lanka who promoted him to open in place of Jayasuriya - someone who played in Twenty20 style before the game was invented.
There was something incongruous seeing a Sri Lanka score of 135 for 6 with Jayasuriya nought not out without facing a ball having come in at No. 7, with youngsters Chandimal, Chamara Kapugedera and Angelo Mathews preferred ahead of him during the final overs. Jayasuriya is no spring chicken and was almost invisible during the IPL as he played just four matches for Mumbai Indians, but in this team he is being picked almost purely for his left-arm spin.
Still, Sri Lanka have a team that should still be masters of this format especially with their depth of spin bowling on these slow West Indian surfaces. Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan were the pick against New Zealand, while Ajantha Mendis' performance showed how quickly fortunes can change in Twenty20. When he removed Scott Styris he looked to have struck a match-winning blow, but Oram put the next two balls over the rope and it was game on again.
There is a thought that batsmen are starting to work out Mendis after the astonishing start he made to international cricket. Like Jayasuriya he was barely used in the IPL - just two matches for Kolkata - and he does appear to have lost a little of that zip which made him so lethal. Coupled with Dilshan's struggles it means Sri Lanka's two x-factor players are not the force they were last year. They should still beat Zimbabwe, but will need their flamboyance to progress further.
The tournament will be worse off if Sri Lanka aren't in the Super Eights, but first they must earn the right to be there.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo