If you didn’t think Twenty20 was an Asian sport, you know the truth now. In South Africa two years ago, India and Pakistan contested a dazzling final. Now, Pakistan are back to try and clear the final hurdle, but instead of the Indians, they will face a wonderfully accomplished Sri Lankan side that have yet to be beaten in the competition. The Sri Lankans were pushed hardest by Ireland of all teams, but Pakistan will no doubt remember how they went toe-to-toe with them for much of their Super-Eights encounter.
This second semi-final was a tale of two innings, neither particularly well supported, but it was no contest to speak of. Pakistan had made a powerful statement of intent at Trent Bridge, and a day later at The Oval it was Sri Lanka’s turn to showcase their bowling might. The Twenty20 format hasn’t seen a bowling attack like this, and it will be fascinating to see how Pakistan’s batsmen go against them in the final.
As fabulous as Sri Lanka’s bowlers were though, there would have been no total to defend without one of the greatest innings ever played in a T20 international. Tillakaratne Dilshan had shown during the IPL why he’s the world’s most improved batsman and on a stage where the West Indians traditionally love to strut their stuff, he wrenched the game away from them with an innings that combined brute force, finesse and considerable nous. While Sanath Jayasuriya struggled horribly at the other end, Dilshan clobbered 12 fours and two sixes, maintaining a terrific tempo right through the innings. It took him 30 balls to score his half-century, and but for Angelo Matthews cornering the strike in the final over, a century was on the cards. It didn’t matter. The 96 was worth far more, as Sri Lanka finished with a score that Kumar Sangakkara would have been more than confident of defending.
Much has been made of the Muralitharan-Mendis-Malinga triumvirate, and with good reason, but today it was the fourth M, Mathews, that killed off West Indian hopes in the very first over. Xavier Marshall and Dwayne Bravo both played on, while Lendl Simmons moved too far across and lost his leg stump. Whatever Chris Gayle did afterwards, and he did finish with 63 from 50 balls, was a bit like spit in the rain. Murali wasn’t particularly economical, going for 29 while taking three wickets, but Mendis was once again nearly unplayable, taking 2 for 9.
Malinga went for a few before returning to end the innings with a searing yorker, but it was Mathews that deserved the most plaudits for his four-over stint that cost just 16 runs. He doesn’t do much with the ball, but his accuracy and a happy knack of taking wickets at opportune times has pushed Farveez Maharoof to the periphery.
When asked to preview the event, I picked Sri Lanka, but such have been the travails of Pakistan cricket that it would be a stone-hearted man that didn’t wish them well. It will be a real contrast in styles, with Sri Lankan consistency up against Pakistan’s mavericks. The heart says the mavericks will prevail, but the head is set on the Lankans, who have been different class all tournament.