The best four T20 nations in the world are left standing as the 2014 World Twenty20 semi-finals are set to get underway on Thursday at the Shere Bangla National Stadium in Bangladesh.
India, South Africa, Asia Cup winners Sri Lanka and defending WT20 champions West Indies negotiated their way through the Super 10 group stage, with the latter two teams having earned their spots in the semi-finals with all-or-nothing wins in their respective last matches.
Let's take a look at the schedule for the upcoming semi-finals:
|April 3||1 p.m. BST/9 a.m. ET||Semi-Final 1||Sri Lanka v West Indies||Sky Go app|
|April 4||1 p.m. BST/9 a.m. ET||Semi-Final 2||India v South Africa||Sky Go app|
Semi-Final 1: Sri Lanka v West Indies
Both teams look eerily similar coming into this semi-final clash, boasting a blend of solid and explosive—if occasionally under-performing—batsmen and spin bowlers who have taken over matches at the right time.
But while the Windies have relied on top batsmen like Chris Gayle and Darren Sammy, Sri Lanka have distributed their runs more evenly throughout the lineup, with the notable exception of Mahela Jayawardene. His total of 134 runs makes him by a distance the top scorer for his team (though that includes an 89 against England), and Sri Lanka will be looking for the veteran batsman to continue his excellent form.
Samuel Badree leads the West Indies attack with 10 wickets in the tournament, and the spinner will be looking to attack Jayawardene and the rest of the Sri Lanka team with the new ball. If Badree is able to dismiss the batsman early, Sri Lanka will lose a vital part of their production, forcing other players to step up and take responsibility.
So far this tournament, that hasn't often happened.
Sam Sohel sees this match coming down to the bowlers:
West Indies bowling helped to all out on 82 & on the last night, Srilanka's bowling helped to all out on just 60. Who will on 3 April? #wt20— Sam Sohel (@SamSohel42) April 1, 2014
Both teams were very effective with the ball in their last outing, but the Windies look to have more depth than Sri Lanka with the bat. If Jayawardene falls early, you have to favour West Indies' chances of winning this one.
Semi-Final 2: India v South Africa
India's bowlers have had phenomenal success so far this tournament. Their batting is little surprise in these conditions, but their bowling attack has also been immense.
India have been absolutely dominant in this year's WT20, and no team remaining in the competition has been able to field a squad as complete as India. They can field, they can bowl and they can score runs in bunches. It's been truly impressive, and somewhat surprising given the lead-up to the tournament, when they struggled at the Asia Cup.
And therein lies the problem. The bowlers, and Amit Mishra and Ravichandran Ashwin in particular, have been so good it has allowed the Indian batsmen to play a very aggressive kind of cricket, going after every ball early and often. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have shined under these circumstances, knocking balls out of the stadium for fun.
But the Proteas can score as well. In fact, Jean-Paul Duminy, Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers have scored well over 400 runs between the three of them, and the South Africans match up reasonably well with India compared to most other teams.
The main difference between these two sides so far has been India's bowling, and as Abhishek points out, India's success has been a pleasant surprise:
India won all 4 matches & the best past has been all 4 times, the Man of the match award went to bowlers. Mishra n Ashwin twice each #wt20— Abhishek (@ImAbhishek_) March 30, 2014
But what if the machine suddenly grinds to a halt? India's bowlers weren't supposed to be this effective, and the Proteas' powerful batting lineup has the ability to put them under genuine pressure.
India's batsmen have been very aggressive knowing they could rely on some solid bowling backing them up, but that may not be the case on Friday. Could Kohli and Sharma resist playing "their" game in order to protect what was supposed to be the team's weakness?
India remain the best team left in the competition, but it only takes a few bad overs to decide a match at this level of cricket. If the bowlers can keep up their excellent form, no one should be able to stop India from taking the WT20 crown in a few days.
The question is, can they do it?