In all the brouhaha associated with an India – Pakistan cricket match, it is easy to forget that there is a key encounter between West Indies and Sri Lanka in the offing on Sunday.
Crucial, because unlike Group 2 where one team, New Zealand, is ahead of the pack with four points, Group 1 is a lot more open, with the West Indies, Sri Lanka and England, all with two points, although England have played one match more than the others.
South Africa, the other big team in the group, are playing against Afghanistan at the Wankhede in Sunday's early encounter and should rake in two points. Thus, theoretically, any two of the big four could still make the semifinal stage.
Sri Lanka, although champions and boasting a record of five wins over West Indies in this format of the game, could hardly be considered a shoo-in when the teams clash at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium under lights. They are walking literally into the den of T20 cricket’s most dreaded opponent, Chris Gayle, and that could hardly be a comforting thought.
The secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, Brijesh Patel, admitted that Gayle’s sensational pyrotechnics in the match against England at the Wankhede Stadium had worked like a catalyst in boosting ticket sales. He pointed out that there was a literal surge in demand for passes and tickets after the master-blaster’s hurricane hundred.
Gayle had stoked it earlier by stating that he was looking forward to batting “on my home ground and I hope I can dish out a big knock for my fans in Bengaluru.”
Naturally there was a huge crowd out on Saturday to get a glimpse of their favourite hero when the West Indies tried their hand at both the National Cricket Academy nets and at the Stadium.
Sri Lanka opener Tillekaratne Dilshan, who played with Gayle for RCB in the IPL, is well aware of the magnificent rapport Bengaluru fans have with Gayle. And that can hardly be comforting either for him or his Lanka team.
The Chinnaswamy Stadium pitch, in fact, is tailor-made for Gayle’s big-hitting ways. The pitch is expected to be flat, of true bounce and with the ball coming on to the bat which makes it conducive to strokeplay. The relatively short boundary is another great lure for big hitters like Gayle.
Thus, considering West Indies’ galaxy of heavy hitters like Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Andre Russel, skipper Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo, they could be expected to entertain a massive crowd.
West Indies also have a good bunch of bowlers in the fray and this should spur Dilshan, Dinesh Chandimal, Lahiru Thirimanne and skipper Angelo Mathews to get cracking and try and piece together a good defendable target.
Lanka’s difficulty level have increased manifold with the injured Lasith Malinga getting ruled out of the tournament. In his absence, Gayle could get the chance to gradually build an innings which, as England found to their cost on Wednesday, could be disastrous later on.
None of the other medium pacers, Nuwan Kulasekara, Mathews and Tisera Perera are impressive without the support of Malinga from the other end.
On present form West Indies are expected to win in a canter. But don’t write off Lanka just as yet.
In fact don’t write off any of the top four teams from this group, West Indies, Sri Lanka, England or South Africa. They are all very much in the race for the top two spots in the group, unlike India’s group where New Zealand have all but sewn up a spot in the semifinals.