It's time for the final act
Gayle-powered West Indies face hosts Sri Lanka in the title clash at Premadasa stadium
Without meaning any disrespect to the Sri Lankan batting, which possesses some of the finest in the world, Sunday’s final is going to be a clash between explosive West Indian batsmen and the crafty home bowlers. The way the two sides won their respective semifinals held out enough signs as to how the title bash may shape up. Where Lanka defended a smallish total of 139 with tigerish zeal against Pakistan, the Caribbeans displayed their fearsome batting, hammering Australia out of sight.
Led by the most destructive T20 batsman – Chris Gayle -- in the world at the moment, if the West Indies batting extends its domination of bowlers to the final then there is little hope for Mahela Jayawardene and company who will be banking on the familiarity of conditions and the strong home support. And much as Lanka may downplay the Gayle factor to maintain a confident facade, there’s no denying the fact that the southpaw will be playing on their psyche.
Not since Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara of the yore, have a team’s fortunes depended so heavily on an individual. Given the short duration of the game, Gayle’s influence has become only that much more. For all their guile and grit, Lanka will know getting the big Jamaican soon in the innings holds the key to their success. Not only his early dismissal will induce confidence among their bowlers but is certain to leave the West Indian innings in disarray. While it’s true that Caribbean side has more number of destructive batsmen than any other team, their ability for self-destruction is matched by few. They need the confident presence of Gayle to prosper.
Lanka will, however, back themselves to keep the Windies’ batsmen in check. The hosts, boasting of a more skilful set of spinners and with a better sense of the conditions, will have to be dealt with some respect unlike the Aussie bowlers while Lasith Malinga poses a perennial danger. There is also a master tactician at the helm who would have lined up a strategy or two to bring about the Windies’ downfall. As much as his plots, Jayawardene’s batting too will be crucial for Lankan prospects. The right-hander has been their most consistent batsman but on the big day he would do with some more contributions. While they can’t claim to have batsmen who can clear the rope with as much ease as the West Indians do, there is enough firepower in the shape of all-rounders Thissara Perera and Angelo Mathews.
If Tillakaratne Dilshan can overcome his diffidence that he often seems to slip into, Windies’ attack will have its task cut out. The true worth of their spin duo -- Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree – will be known depending upon how they fare against some of the best batsmen of the turning ball.
There is also a small matter of big-match jitters. Not since their victory in the 2004 Champions Trophy in England, had Windies managed to win an ICC event while this is the fourth major final for Sri Lanka in the last five years. Sri Lanka can legitimately claim they are better-equipped to handle the pressure of the big stage but history shows that they haven’t either won any of their previous three finals. In that sense, Lankans have a record to set straight and what better place than Premadasa.