Friday, 21 March 2014

Ten days of T20 Farewells

Sri Lanka v South Africa, World T20 2014

Sri Lanka play their first group game on the 22nd of March. Their last group game is on the 31st of March. In the space of these 10 days, Mahela Jayawardane and Kumar Sangakkara and quite possibly Rangana Herath and TM Dilshan will play their last T20 internationals for Sri Lanka, with the exception of a Semi final and a final, if they get there. It's not like neither of these players will never play for Sri Lanka again, all four will play ODIs and apart from Dilshan, the other three will keep playing Tests, so it's not like no one will ever see them bat or bowl in a Sri Lanka jersey. Also, it's T20. It's the instant noodles of cricket. It's the soda bottle format. It's the format West Indies are world champions at, that no ones gives a rats bum about. But it is also the only format that Sri Lanka are #1 in the world. 

It's an interesting time for Sanga and Mahela to announce their retirements, as I believe they would have both retired two years ago in Sri Lanka, they would have loved to leave an intricate legacy behind them, winning the world cup in home soil., if Malinga had managed to hold his horses against Samuels, and the batsmen had held their nerve, and chased down 120 to win the world title. But they didn't. And Sanga and Mahela didn't get their happy ending. And they would have decided to try and have a go at just one more, to get that elusive world title that has slipped both their grasps, which leaves a hole in what otherwise are two illustrious careers with magical numbers. Some would argue that it is a selfish choice in chase of personal accolades. And some would argue that it is a selfless sacrifice, barring all physical pain and mental stress, to give it one last go to win one for the country, as the two senior statesmen of the squad. I prefer to believe the latter, for I know without the two, Sri Lanka's chances at this world cup would be pretty grim. Pretty. Grim. Not two words you hear together too often. I get distracted too often.

Sanath Jayasuriya's not happy on how these two announced their retirements,
but he's got to understand they aren't pros like him at retiring.
How many times did he retire? 3 different times, was it?
They start their uphill battle against South Africa. South Africa are abysmal in the sub-continent. They are also rather appalling at World Cups. Add to it, the fact that their recent form against Sri Lanka has been something like 7 to 2, the formula reads Sri Lanka win by a huge margin tomorrow at the curtain raiser for Group I. Yes, we are in Group I, not II. The fact that the first group to play matches is called group II baffles me too. But from organizers who placed the hosts in a qualifying tournament, that posed a threat of the hosts being knocked out even before the actual tournament started, I would expect nothing more than more confusion.

But South Africa are South Africa. They beat Sri Lanka in home soil in a rain shortened game at the last world cup. In AB De Villiers, JP Duminy, David Miller, Quinten de Kock, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, if he is fit to play, they have the most technically explosive batting line up in the tournament. In Tsotsobe, Parnell and the newly acquired younger version of Alfonso Thomas; Brian Hendricks, and the menacing Morne Morkel, even without Dale Steyn, posses one of the most powerful pace attacks as well. And if Aron Phangiso and Imran Tahir can provide some rip, Sri Lanka can find them selves fighting for dear life, even before the business end of the tournament.

What this does though, is that it provides a perfect platform for Sanga, Mahela and Dilshan to soak up all that pressure and bow out in style. Sri Lanka will probably go with their settled top six of Kusal, Dilshan, Sanga, Mahela, Chandimal and Mathews. In my personal opinion, I'd then opt for the three spinners; Sachithra, Mendis and Herath, with the obvious choice of Malinga. The fast bowling all rounder would be a tussle between Thisara Perera and Nuwan Kulasekara, and based only on form, I'd go with Kula, as he's been hitting them better than Thisara, off late. But Sri Lanka has the choice of going with only two spinners, and both Thisara and Kula, as well. They could also opt for Seekkuge Prasanna, as the 3rd spinner. Either way, the way to Sri Lanka winning this game, and quite possibly the tournament is through big top order scores, late order hitting and strangling the opposition with spin, with short productive bursts of Malinga.

Sri Lanka's chances are bright, and if form stays faithful to them, another world cup semi final is well within reach. To talk of anything further, at this point, is crazy talk. All in due time.

Until then,

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