Sri Lanka and India will meet in the final of the World T20 2014 on Sunday. Both sides impressed in their respective semi-finals, and we look set for a thrilling end to what has been a marvellous tournament.
In the eyes of many, these two are the best T20 sides in the world at the moment. Sri Lanka knocked out defending champions West Indies in their semi-final on the Duckworth/Lewis method after thunderstorms halted play.
In the second semi-final, another magical knock from Virat Kohli helped India to a six-wicket win over South Africa.
Sri Lanka will be keen to win this competition, having twice lost in the final back in 2009 and 2012. If that wasn’t incentive enough, two iconic figures in the Sri Lankan game will play their last game in this format, as Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene feature in their final T20 international games.
This game represents a wonderful opportunity for those legends to sign off on a high.
As for India, they go into this one bristling with obvious confidence. With the scores level against South Africa with one over to go, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni could have won the game for his team. But he chose to play a defensive shot to a rank delivery, allowing Kholi to score the winning runs.
It’s a measure of the assurance and the team ethic that runs deep in this Indian squad, something Kholi himself was quick to point, per Times of India:
I told him, 'You finish it off'.
But he said, 'What else can I give you? You've batted well in this match. This is my gift'.
I said, 'That's very kind of you'. I accepted it, why not? Scoring the winning runs always feels different. I'm grateful to him that he let me finish it off.
With spirits high in both camps, let's take a look at the semi-final games and which players will be decisive for each team in Sunday’s final showpiece.
Sri Lanka 160-6 (20 overs) beat West Indies 80-4 (13.5 overs) by 27 runs—Duckworth/Lewis method
Thunderstorms may have cut this one short, but Sri Lanka looked well in control throughout the contest. They posted a respectable score of 160-6 after batting first, thanks to 44 from Lahiru Thirimanne and a quick-fire 40 from Angelo Mathews.
But it was with the ball where Sri Lanka really shone. Some astute bowling restricted the West Indian openers Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith to slow scoring early on; Sri Lanka skipper Lasith Malinga managed to prize both out in the fifth over, and those wickets proved to be vital.
Subsequently, West Indies were well behind the rate when the weather took a turn, and even though the crowd were denied a full contest, it would have taken a Herculean effort for the West Indies to knock off the 81 runs required from just 37 balls. You have to say, Sri Lanka were deserved winners.
India 176-4 (19.1 overs) beat South Africa 172-4 (20 overs) by 6 wickets
Another Indian win, another fine knock from Kohli.
South Africa battled hard in this one, and they did very well to post a total of 172-4. The star of the Indian bowling attack was Ravichandran Ashwin, who picked up figures of 3-22. Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy scored 58 and 45 not out respectively, and that gave the Proteas a defendable total to put up against India’s stellar batting line-up.
But after knocking off 14 in the first over of their innings, it was wholly apparent this Indian team were not hanging around. They lost Rohit Sharma with the score on 39, but that brought Kohli to the crease. He batted superbly for his 72 from just 44 balls, running hard between the wickets, rotating the strike and punishing the bad deliveries.
It was the 25-year-old who scored the winning runs for his team, and in this kind of form, Sri Lanka’s bowlers may be a little worried about facing Kohli ahead of Sunday’s showdown.
Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka
Whilst much of the focus will be on the duo of Sangakkara and Jayawardene before they walk away from T20, it’s Malinga’s skills with the ball that could determine whether Sri Lanka can triumph in this final at the third time of asking.
After all, following his wickets against South Africa, he became the highest wicket-taker in T20 World Cup matches:
In the semi-final, it was Malinga’s bowling that eventually won the game for his team. He bowled superbly at the start of the innings, frustrating Gayle and Smith before eventually dispatching both West Indian openers in the fifth over. As captain of the side, it's up to him to lead by example, and he did exactly that against the Windies.
Malinga is also a player who excels when bowling at the end of the innings. His vast repertoire of yorkers, off cutters and slower balls make him a nightmare for batsmen, and if India need to score quickly in the final overs, Malinga can make it very, very difficult for them.
Virat Kohli, India
Sometimes in sport, you just have to hold your hands up and pay tribute to the opposition. And that’s exactly what South Africa skipper du Plessis did after witnessing Kohli’s match-winning knock against his side.
"He was too good for us," according to the Proteas’ captain per Times of India, but there’s no shame in that, as Kohli has shone against plenty in this tournament so far.
Per ESPN Cricinfo.com, Kohli has scored 242 runs from his five knocks in the T20 World Cup, and regardless of what happens in the final, he looks nailed on to pick up the player of the tournament gong.
|South Africa||72 (not out)||4 April 2014|
|Australia||23||30 March 2014|
|Bangladesh||57 (not out)||28 March 2014|
|West Indies||54||23 March 2014|
|Pakistan||36 (not out)||21 March 2014|
Batting at No. 3, Kohli has shown his adaptability in this tournament. He is capable of coming in and steadying the ship when India lose an early wicket but just as comfortable going on the counter-attack and forcing the opposition on to the back foot.
His innings against South Africa encapsulated that, as he accelerated his innings to perfection after a rock-solid, watchful start.
He's not all about brute power either, and following that knock against South Africa, Kohli highlighted the importance of running well between the wickets:
If Sri Lanka let Kohli get set, it’ll be a long afternoon for their bowlers. They must find a way of getting rid of him, or at worst, restricting him.
But that’s easier said than done when it comes to this mercurial talent.