Former champions Pakistan and hosts Sri Lanka clash in the first semi-final of the World Twenty20 in Colombo on Thursday, banking on the quality spinners in the two camps. The pre-match focus revolved around Sri Lanka's unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis and Pakistan's prolific Saeed Ajmal, both of whom have been the highest wicket-takers for their respective teams in the competition.
But while the spinners from both sides continued to make headlines in the run up to game today, one feels it will be the batsmen from either side who will play the 'game-changing' role at the Premadasa.
Stick around as Dawn.com brings all the action, analysis and multimedia from the epic Pakistan-Sri Lanka clash in Colombo.
Readers are invited to be share their input and analysis, set the field, live commentate, share pictures, predict the outcome of the match. Have your say as Pakistan takes on Sri Lanka in what promises to be a cracking semi-final showdown.
T20 specialist bowler Dirk Nannes tells BBC’s Test Match Special:
"We didn't know which Pakistan team would turn up today - if it would be the free-flowing, high-scoring Pakistan, or the one that keeps playing and missing, and playing strange shots."
OVER! Umar Akmal hits a four off the penultimate ball but it comes too late. The second last over from Malinga was enough to make it impossible for Pakistan. Sri Lanka now await the winners of the Australia-West Indies match tomorrow.
Two dot balls. Umar Akmal misses a chance on the second ball with a big heave.
Kulasekara bowls the last over.
Great second last over from Malinga. Only four runs scored and a missed run out chance.
Last two overs. 27 needed. Umar Akmal to face Malinga and Umar Gul on non-striker's end.
WICKET! Tanvir tries to heave Mendis over the leg side, gets way out of his crease and an easy stumping for Sanagakkara. Pakistan seven down. Umar Gul in now. REQUIRED: 27 off 14
Last three overs now. Pakistan need 32 from them. Malinga has one over left. Mathews and Herath are done. Kulasekara has two left, Mendis one.
Sohail Tanvir goes for it against Lasith Malinga. Hits in the air over the leg side and the ball races away for four. REQUIRED: 35 off 20
WICKET - Afridi goes first ball! Arm-ball from Herath and it crashes straight into the stumps. Afridi should have been forward to that one! Game with Sri Lanka now!
WICKET - Hafeez loses the plot, jumps down the wicket and misses Herath completely. Easy stumping for Sangakkara!
BOUNDARY - Umar Akmal cuts Mendis through point for four!
BOUNDARY - 12 runs of that Herath over! First a reverse sweep from Hafeez that fetches the captain a four and then a six! Malinga dropped a sitter in the last over. It was Hafeez. Will it prove costly?
WICKET - Herath gets his first one! How many more will he get? He fancies Pakistan a bit! Malik outdone by a great ball that pitched on a good length and spun sharply hitting off!
WICKET - Nothing wrong with this one. Mathews completely deceives Kamran Akmal with his slower one. Kamran was 15-minutes early into that stroke! Simple catch for short mid wicket.
WICKET - Mathews traps Nasir Jamshed in front, the batsman, tried to play across the line to that one and completely missed! Replays show the ball pitched way outside leg!
Herath now on. How Pakistan play him will be key to their chances.
BOUNDARY - Hafeez gets one in the middle! Pakistan 48/1 in 8.
Sajid Hussain from India says: "Sri Lanka should not try to take the wicket of Hafeez. He is the key man for both Pakistan and SL. If he stays for 20 overs then Pak may not even reach 80…..haha."
WICKET - No relief for Pakistan though as Mendis strikes with his very next ball. Again, a confused mindset from the batsman neither forward nor back, and the ball eventually trickles onto the stumps!
BOUNDARY - Nazir sweeps Mendis for the first four in ages.
Pakistan have been in confused in their approach and Sri Lanka smart. A lot of cutters and slower balls and Nazir and Hafeez just have no answer. Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath will benefit from this.
BOUNDARY - Contrasting start for Malinga. Bowls too far down the leg side for 5 wides, follows it up with several slower balls. His cutters are really kicking off the wicket, Herath and Mendis will be warming up.
BOUNDARY - Nazir guides Nuwan Kulasekara through third-man for four. The bowler had cut Nazir in half on a couple of occasions with his big inswingers. Lasith Malinga will be a handful on this wicket!
BOUNDARY - Imran Nazir slams Angelo Mathews over the covers for Pakistan's first boundary! Earlier in the over, Nazir smacked Mathews towards points where Dilshan just got a finger on it, would have been the catch of the tournament!
Cricket writer and Dawn.com contributor Shoaib Naveed says: A very competitive score by Sri Lanka on this wicket. The last over really hurt us, as expected it was Thisara Perera again that lead the charge against Pak, as he did in the ODI series. Start is crucial, Pakistan have to give Imran Nazir given a free hand, however, Kula with his banana inswingers is bound to trouble him. Hafeez has to make sure he doesn't get bogged down. Umar Akmal and Malik promoted over Kamran will not be a bad idea given their prowess against spin.
Azhar Mahmood tweets: Ball is getting wet! Good chance for Pakistan to win this.
16 runs off that Gul over sees Sri Lanka post 139. Perrera provided Sri Lanka with much-needed final push that Jayawardene would have been hoping for when he started in blazing fashion for his 42. Sangakkara too looked in great touch but managed just 18. Pakistan did well to strangle the hosts after their initial burst set the stage for a score in excess of 150.
WICKET - Ajmal ends Mendis' misery. The batsman jumps down the wicket and Ajmal bowls it wide, easy stumping for Kamran Akmal.
Cricket writer and Dawn.com contributor Shoaib Naveed says: Reserving Gul for just the last few overs is working it's magic again. Seems to bowl best when he knows he has to be full.
19:48 PST WICKET - This time Gul traps Dilshan in front with another perfect yorker! It is not a no-ball this time! Thisara Perrera next man! Gul has been great so far. Perrera survives, another yorker, through the batsman in a flash and just misses the leg stump!
Gul fires in the perfect yorker that just missed Mendis' off stump. The next delivery is good, hits the batsman's pads and is adjudged out! But the big screen shows it is a NO-BALL! Free hit! Could be a blessing in disguise, Mendis' goes no where with that free hit.19:39 PST
BOUNDARY - Dilshan, who has been quite so far, guides Ajmal, who has been unlike himself as well, through fine leg. Gul dives but to no avail. Bowling stats so far Afridi 4-28-1, Raza 4-26-0, Ajmal 3-27-0 and Tanvir 3-11-0. Hafeez has two up his sleeve while Gul is in his second over.
Vic Marks, commentating for BBC Test Match Special, says:
"Umar Gul's going to come on, he'll be looking for a bit of reverse swing. But we've seen it go both ways with him - he can bowl yorkers and slower balls, or he can go for a few. And it's very rare you get an opening batsman still in after 15 overs, but having only scored 28."
BOUNDARY - Reverse sweep again! Jeevan Mendis times that one from the middle of his bat, great shot! Hafeez doing a good job so far in slowing things down, his two over have given away just 12 runs and fetched Pakistan a wicket. SL 100/2 in 15. Umar Gul comes into the attack, let' s see how he goes.
BOUNDARY - Dilshan responds by smacking that Afridi full toss over mid wicket for four!
Twitter reaction: @paperstargirl says: How often does a team think, "Have to keep Dilshan in..."?
WICKET - Sangakkara gave Hafeez the charge but the bowler stopped in his run. Next delivery, Sangkkara once again came down the wicket, Hafeez bowled it wide and the batsman who had stretch for it managed to spoon it to the long on boundary.
Cricket writer and Dawn.com contributor Shoaib Naveed says: Saeed Ajmal has actually been off-color throughout the tournamnet. Bowling too short. Needs to get his pace right. Around the 95/96 kph region.
BOUNDARY - This time is Ajmal who faces the wrath of Sangakkara who is absolutely smashing everything! 12 runs from that over, Sri Lanka 79/1 in 12. Dilshan, meanwhile, is just knocking it around.
BOUNDARY - Kumar Sangakkara smacks Afridi to get off the mark with a blistering four!
T20 specialist bowler Dirk Nannes tells BBC’s Test Match Special: “I’m surprised we’ve not seen Hafeez bowl himself, he normally bowls a lot of his overs early on.”
Cricket writer and Dawn.com contributor Shoaib Naveed says: Pitch is crumbling, anything over 130 will be a tough ask with Sri Lanka's bowling. It's an even start. Hafeez needs to bowl now and not in the death overs.
WICKET - Jayawardene tries the paddle over fine leg but his that Afridi delivery straight to Raza Hasan.
BOUNDARY - After playing a full range of strokes in that over, Jayawardene comes down the track to lift Raza Hasan over his head. The Sri Lankan captain now has seven fours in his 42-run innings!
BOUNDARY - Jayawardene chips Afridi's google over the covers for another four! He is playing the kind of innings that we discussed earlier, and one that may eventually shift the balance in Sri Lanka's favour after the first innings alone.
BOUNDARY - Jayawardene reverse sweeps Shahid Afridi over the head of point for four! Afridi getting turning it big and getting some bounce as well. 'Boom boom' will have to be play an inspirational role today to lift Pakistan. It was 16 years ago this very day that Afridi announced his arrival to world cricket.
BOUNDARY - This time is it's a reverse sweep from Jayawardene and another boundary from Ajmal's first over.
BOUNDARY - Saeed Ajmal is introduced and he gives away an easy four straight away. Short and swept away by Jayawardene.
Tanvir is proving to be a good selection as he continues to deny the Sri Lankans of big runs in the power-play overs. A few more missed chances and a wide make it an eventful fifth over.
ALMOST! Dilshan edges a delivery that moved away and Kamran Akmal's dive is not enough to get Dilshan. Two more runs to Sri Lanka. 24-0 in 5 overs.
BOUNDARY - Jayawardene picks a four off Hasan with a solid sweep.
Dilshan was lucky on the first delivery when he played a good delivery late and would have been gone leg-before had the bat not come down in time.
A dot ball and then Dilshan drops it short on the last delivery for a single. Only two runs from the Tanvir over. Sri Lanka 14-0 in 3 overs.
A couple of good deliveries from Tanvir as he gets the ball to move away from the right-handed Lankan openers. Dilshan gives a big heave on the fourth delivery as Tanvir squeezes the runs in his second over.
Raza Hasan is introduced from the other end and the Sri Lankan openers are taking the attack to the young left-arm spinner. A push through the covers from Jayawardene which earns him three runs off the first delivery. Shahid Afridi makes a diving save and the outfield looks a bit slow.
BOUNDARY - Tilikaratne Dilshan cuts Hasan on the third ball for his first runs of the match. Sri Lanka pick seven runs off the second over.
And we are underway with Sohail Tanvir, who replaces Abdul Razzaq.
BOUNDARY - Mahela Jayawardene gets the Sri Lanka scoring underway with a glance down the leg side. Umar Gul makes a diving attempt but fails in stopping the first four of the semi-final.
Cricket writer and Dawn.com contributor, Shoaib Naveed, says: Pakistani batsmen have always had problems facing left-hand spinners. Given their performance against Robin Peterson, they should be wary against Rangana Herath, who has a history of dominating the Pakistani batsman. Nasir Jamshed being a left-hander will be key against him.
Sohail Tanvir is a thoughtful selection, given his good performance recently in Sri Lanka in the ODI series. Hafeez should be wary of not giving him more than one if he has a bad start.
18:00 PST Pakistan have made one change to the side that beat Australia in the Super Eights and brought in Sohail Tanvir in place of Abdul Razzaq. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka have brought in Pakistan's tormentor Rangana Herath in place of Akila Dananjaya.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal (wk), Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis
Shahid Afridi's conversation on television from yesterday’s practice session:
"We have been travelling to Sri Lanka and playing here very frequently and have become familiar with the conditions, the pitches and the grounds. I know Sri Lanka will have majority of the support being the home team but we have had fans coming in from all over to support us and it has been great. Spinners are very important, especially in these conditions and we have a world-class spin attack."