It's Caribbean flair vs Lankan guile

Chandimal's side needs to curb the West Indian power-hitters in the first semifinal today

It's Caribbean flair vs Lankan guile

Kieron Pollard, perhaps the biggest hitter of the cricket ball, is missing from the link. Chris Gayle, the most dangerous T20 batsman in the world, has fired only in fits and starts. Marlon Samuels, a vital cog in the middle-order, has hardly looked the part. Yet, West Indies are in the World T20 semifinals.

And unlike in the last edition when they entered the last four with luck playing a big part in their progress, the West Indies have managed to shape their own destiny this time with two come-from-behind wins. Sri Lanka, their opponents in the first semifinal here at the Sher-e-Bangla National stadium on Thursday, will be aware of the challenge ahead of them as the islanders eye their maiden World T20 title.

Sri Lanka’s hopes of lifting the trophy in front of their home crowd came crashing down when Samuels’ blitz was effectively complemented by a superlative effort by the bowlers in 2012 in Colombo. Despite having to chase a modest total, Sri Lanka fell short of the target on a slow turner where West Indies’ spinners cast a spell on the home batsmen after pacer Ravi Rampaul had provided the crucial breakthroughs up front.

The conditions here are identical to the ones you encounter in Colombo and it will once again boil down to handling the quality tweakers that both teams possess in abundance.

Since West Indies have played all their group matches at this venue, conventional wisdom suggests that they would have an advantage over Sri Lanka when it comes to knowledge of the conditions which they have made the optimum use of. However, the Lankans, who were based in Chittagong and where spinners’ role was undermined on most occasions because of the heavy dew, will back their spinners to exploit the conditions in Dhaka.      
 
“I don't think we'll have any advantage,” said Dwayne Bravo when asked if his team enjoyed an edge over Lanka. “Obviously, we played most of our games here, that's good for us, but at the same time Sri Lanka are used to the conditions; more used to than us. They play more cricket in Bangladesh than us and they just won the Asia Cup. It's a semifinal between two very good teams who were finalists in the last World Cup. It's going to be a very good game.”

 That said the Lankan batting has been a bit iffy in the tournament. The veteran duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan has been off-colour while questions are being raised about the form of skipper Dinesh Chandimal, who sat out the last group match due to suspension. Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera too have done precious little to leave the batting department a bit suspect.

 That they couldn’t defend a total of 189 against England in a Group 1 match exposed the chinks in their bowling though the inclusion of Rangana Herath did the trick for them in the shootout against New Zealand. The left-arm spinner’s 5/3 against the Kiwis has provided Lanka with another option in the spin department along with Sachitra Senanayake. It remains to be seen if Lanka include Ajantha Mendis in place of pacer Nuwan Kulasekara. Mathews and Thisara Perera could then handle pace along with Lasith Malinga.

 While the Caribbeans will be hoping for Gayle, the most animated of the West Indian cricketers on the field, to rediscover his destructive best, Bravo and skipper Darren Sammy have filled that breach with a lashing that has left their opponents quaking in their boots.

One can only imagine the extent of damage West Indies can cause if most of their batsmen play to their full potential. Encouragingly, after a somewhat below par show against Australia, the bowlers found their bearings against Pakistan, one of the better sides against spin. Samuel Badree and Sunil Narine were impeccable at the start and towards the end respectively while the unorthodox Krishmar Santokie has added novelty to their attack.

In the end, though, it may just boil down to West Indies’ batting versus Sri Lankan bowling.

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