Between them, apart from the many funky hairstyles and beards, these two sides have three spinners who bowl the carrom ball; one fast bowler whose release point can be so low umpires have been asked to change their shirt lest the ball is lost in the background; a batsman who plays a shot that endangers his own face before harming the opposition; fielders who leap over the boundary rope, catch the ball, throw it back when in air, recover, come back and take the catch with a success rate that matches some wicketkeepers’ with regulation nicks; one batsman who is so enjoying his game he can break into a dance even when concentrating hard and in obvious pain; a captain capable of pulling off the kind of switch identical twins do in professional wrestling – and what are Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara if not twins.
We could go on with that list forever. You just look around and listen to cricketers’ painstaking interviews, their tense faces, their breaking bodies, and international cricket seems like incredibly pressure-filled, and possibly glum. Then you watch Jayawardene set up a trap with his spinners, or just the newest innovator from the country trying to reinvent some art of the game. Then you also watch Chris Gayle celebrate a wicket, or try to scare the non-striker’s stumps when issuing a Mankading warning. These guys make cricket feel like a fun activity again.
It hasn’t been all fun and games for these teams, though. Has there been a bigger heartbreak in our sport than watching West Indies wither away, at times because they have failed to match that flair with sensible cricket? They have had so many pay disputes and strikes you might think communism is alive and well, and you wouldn’t be more wrong. It’s after many years of gloom that West Indies are rallying again at the world stage. Is this the time when, as their anthem promises, “the runs are going to flow like water, bringing so much joy to every son and daughter”? Is this the time West Indies will “rise again like a raging fire”?
Sri Lanka have mostly been healthy on the field, in world events, but they have had to play without pay, rise above alleged corruption in the board and, most importantly, recover from various heartbreaks in finals. Since 2007, they have lost three finals of World Cups. Lesser teams would have been broken beyond despair. Yet, here they are, playing their fourth World Cup final in five years. Will they finally break that jinx?
(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWWWL
Watch out for
Mahela Jayawardenetamed the raging turner in the semi-final like a ringmaster does his animals. If the pitch is anywhere close to that difficult for Twenty20 batting, keep an eye out for his artistry. And there is no reason why the pitch shouldn’t be a repeat of the semi-final. Sri Lanka are the home side, and they should get that advantage.
In the final, Chris Gayle will have to tackle an attack more varied than he has done so far in the tournament. It won’t be as easy to pick the bowlers he wants to hurt as it was against Australia. Sri Lanka will stretch Gayle to the fullest, but Gayle has already apologised to the host country for beating their team, hasn’t he?
Sri Lanka will have seen Gayle batter the left-arm orthodox spin of Xavier Doherty. Rangana Herath has a carrom ball in his armoury but it will still need a big heart to persist with Herath even though he took three wickets in the semi-finals. Jayawardene will have to make the call between Herath and Akila Dananjaya. It’s experience, poise and guile against the unknown.
Sri Lanka 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Mahela Jayawardene (capt.), 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Jeevan Mendis, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Rangana Herath/Akila Dananjaya
West Indies will be tempted to retain the XI that thrashed Australia. Gayle pulled up with a side strain, but if the man can walk, he will play. Andre Russell’s one poor over might have given West Indies headaches, but it is unlikely he will be replaced by Fidel Edwards.
West Indies 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Johnson Charles, 3 Marlon Samuels, 4 Dwayne Bravo, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Darren Sammy (capt.), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Ravi Rampaul, 11 Samuel Badree.
Pitch and conditions
Expectedly the pitch for the second semi-final didn’t assist spinners as much as the one for the first. It made sense too, for Sri Lanka to win the trial by spin, and then not allow the other semi-finalist a proper experience of what it is going to be like. Expect more turn on Sunday, and rightly so.
Stats and trivia
- Gayle has already hit the most sixes in this tournament, 16, and is only 30 runs behind the leading run-getter, Shane Watson, who scored 249.
- Jayawardene has hit the most fours, 27.
- Ajantha Mendis is the joint-highest wicket-taker at 11, along with Watson, and his nearest competitors still alive in the tournament are Lasith Malinga and Ravi Rampaul, who have taken eight wickets each.
“Nobody is going to make Chris Gayle miss that final tomorrow. He has played through pain for us many times before and tomorrow won’t be any different.”
Darren Sammy confirms what everyone expected
“Everyone wanted us in the finals when we played our first game in Hambantota. I don’t think that has died down, and as a team we’ve handled that pretty well.”
Mahela Jayawardene states what everyone expected
“Were we helpless? Probably. Chris Gayle can do that to you.”