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Preview: Spinners to set tone for Sri Lanka-Pakistan semi-final

October 03, 2012

Match: Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, 1st Semi Final of the ICC World Twenty20.

Venue: R Premadasa Cricket Stadium, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Date and time: Thursday, October 4, 2012, 18:30 PST / 13:30 GMT

Overall Rivalry: Twice as good; Pakistan 6 wins Sri Lanka 3 wins

Momentum in the last five matches: Carnage; Pakistan 4 wins Sri Lanka 1 win

Weather Report: Partly cloudy with a high of 31 Celsius is expected. Winds will range from 20 to 30 km/h with lesser chances of rain than have been throughout the week.

22 Yard Report: In normal circumstances it would be hard to find a South African team bowling four spinners or a Pakistani team where pace is introduced in the 18th over; such were the scheme of things on Tuesday at the same venue in Colombo. The curator is expected to offer a fresher pitch that was used in the first round. The strip has had enough rest, water and heavy rollers to give an even contest between bat and ball. However, both teams are still expected to go in with a lopsided spin attack.

Game On: Pakistan will take confidence from their win against the Australians and go into the match with a positive approach. Hafeez failed with the bat but answered his critics by opening the bowling against the in-form W’s of Australia. Pakistan is the most successful team in the competition’s history and the only one to have reached the semi final stage in all editions so far.

The last time these two teams met in a World T20 match was in the 2009 Final in England. That day Sri Lanka chose to bat first with the in-form Tilikaratne Dilshan at the top of the order. In reply, the Pakistani pace-men came out with aggressive intent and a plan executed to the tee. Five out of six wickets were taken by fast bowlers and they restricted the Lankans to a mere 138. Batting second, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik clinically chased the target with eight wickets in hand.

A lot has changed since that thumping win at Lord’s. Pakistan’s Man of the Series, Shahid Afridi, is off colour and the pace attack lacks the potency it had three years ago. The batting has been typically inconsistent but the variety and guile of their spin repertoire has seen them through to the semi-final stage with four wins out of five games.

Lasith Malinga has found form but Sri Lanka also rely heavily on their spin attack. Ajantha Mendis has already had an impact on the tournament while Rangana Herath and Jeevan Mendis have aided him well.

Eighteen year old Akila Dananjaya has been their find of the tournament who has bowled matured spells of right arm off-break whereas he bats with his left hand. Pakistan’s answer to Dhananjaya is their 20-year old talent Raza Hasan. Interestingly, Raza bowls left-arm orthodox and bats with his right hand. It’s a contest within the bigger contest between two talented youngsters with an opportunity on a big stage early in their career.

Pakistan’s spinning strength is also where the Lankans find comfort. They are raised on spin-friendly pitches and seldom fear the turning ball.  The likes of Kumar Sangakara and Mahela Jayawardene are extremely good players of spin and make a living out of using their strong wrists and nimble feet. It is unlikely that the Pakistani spinners are going to bowl 18 out of the 20 allotted overs.

Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi and Shoib Malik came into the tournament with a reputation of being stalwarts of the T20 format but have had little to show for, while young guns like Nasir Jamshed and Raza Hasan have raised their hands with useful contributions. Perhaps it is time for the senior men to justify their billing and come to the party.

Game Changer: It is expected that if the Sri Lankan batsmen are able to counter Pakistan’s spin threat they would have won half the battle. The other half will be fought between Pakistani batsmen and Sri Lankan spin. However, the fresh pitch might surprise and give the batsmen some assistance as well.

Pre-Game Talk:  "They've got some quality spinners, but our guys play spin quite well," Jayawardene knows the opposition well but backs his own strength.

"Sri Lanka also plays spin well. But whatever conditions we have seen here, it suits the spinners," Hafeez is banking on his spinners to perform.

Last XI Fielded Sri Lankans: Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Lahiru Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Akila Dananjaya, Ajantha Mendis.

Last XI Fielded Pakistanis:  Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal (wk), Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzak, Umar Gul, Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal.

Possible Changes: Both teams have had a good run and seem to have settled with their teams well. It is unlikely that any of the two captains will try to experiment at this stage of the tournament.

Final Words:  Sri Lanka will play with home advantage and the hunger of a Cup they have never won before. Pakistan, who already with a rich history behind them in this format, will hope to carry their momentum and try peaking at the right time.