In a hall, located on the first floor of the Sinhalese Sports Club Stadium in the heart of Colombo, a cup gleams alone under the light. It is the biggest affirmation of Sri Lanka’s cricketing prowess and it is not just another cup, it is the World Cup that Arjuna Ranatunga held aloft at Lahore on March 16, 1996.
Sri Lanka has progressed well since that special day but there is one glitch that has affected it all these years — being the eternal bridesmaid in ICC tournaments. The second-best dossier reads: Runner-up in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups; Losing finalist in the 2009 ICC World Twenty20.
The men from the Emerald Isle did claim some silver-ware in the intervening period but that was the farcical joint-winner status shared with India after rains washed out the ICC Champions Trophy final here in 2002.
It is this so-near-and-yet-so-far tale over the last 16 years, that Mahela Jayawardene’s men would love to rewrite while they gear up for the ICC World Twenty20 semifinal against Pakistan at the R. Premadasa Stadium here on Thursday.
Playing at home, the host is fully aware that it is just two steps away from adding a glittering trophy to the one that Ranatunga received from the then Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The portents are good as Sri Lanka has largely cruised in the current tournament but for that stumble in a Group C seven-over shoot-out against South Africa at Hambantota.
The team has coped with all eventualities, including the super-over against New Zealand. If there is a worry, then it has to be the over-reliance on Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara to deliver all the time.
The bowling will revolve around Lasith Malinga’s toe-crushers and the slow-menace that men like Ajantha Mendis can extract from a turgid surface.
In Pakistan, Sri Lanka has an opposition that can spring from despair (loss against India) to ecstasy (victory over Australia) within a span of 48 hours. Mohammad Hafeez and company have continued the tradition of maverick men slipping and soaring with alarming regularity ever since Imran Khan’s retirement in 1992.
So far, Pakistan has backed all its cards on spin with Umar Gul often being an after-thought. Saeed Ajmal and his fellow spinners will again helm the bulk of the attack but Pakistan also needs to shore up its run-quotient. Its batsmen have shone in parts and the ensuing drought has been overcome at times by Umar Akmal and Gul.
Pakistan won the tournament at Lord’s in 2009 and then coped with the stains of spot-fixing and the terror threat back home. Talent still resides high within the Pakistani ranks and if Hafeez can top it with consistency, the visitor will test Sri Lanka’s mettle.
In recent exchanges between the two rivals, Sri Lanka dominated the proceedings but like how it showed against Australia, Pakistan is never short of surprises and guiding it is a Colombo-born Australian Dav Whatmore, who also coached Sri Lanka during those days when Ranatunga’s merry bunch lorded over the world.
The teams (from): Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene (captain), K. Sangakkara, T. Dilshan, A. Mathews, D. Chandimal, L. Thirimanne, T. Perera, L. Malinga, N. Kulasekara, Ajantha Mendis, Jeevan Mendis, R. Herath, A. Dananjaya, D. Munaveera and S. Eranga.
Pakistan: Md. Hafeez (captain), N. Jamshed, I. Nazir, Kamran Akmal, U. Akmal, Yasir Arafat, S. Malik, A. Razzak, U. Gul, M. Sami, R. Hasan, S. Ajmal, S. Afridi, S. Tanvir and A. Shafiq.
Umpires: Simon Taufel and Rod Tucker; Third umpire: Ian Gould; Match referee: Jeff Crowe.
Match starts at 7.00 p.m.
Keywords: ICC World Twenty20