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THE West Indies’ thumping victory over Australia in Friday’s World T20 semi-final was as near to flawless as it gets in Twenty20 cricket.
The shortest form of the game has evolved from its early guise as 40 overs of crash-bang-wallop that needed accompanying pop bands, dancing girls and fireworks for entertainment into an intriguing tactical contest.
Big hitting, quick running between the wickets and sharp fielding remain essential. Now spinners are no longer the four-overs fodder they were considered in the beginning (if they were picked at all), but significant contributors. Captains have come to realise they need to have their wits about them more intently and bowlers to control of their nerves more steadily than in the longer, more unhurried versions.
On Friday night, Australia’s skipper George Bailey made the wrong choice in left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty for the last over. Mitchell Starc, the left-arm swinger who had been outstanding in earlier matches, started the spray the ball around under the West Indies onslaught. Wicket-keeper Matthew Wade suddenly became porous.
In contrast, the West Indies, for all their assumed excitable nature, remained calm throughout and Darren Sammy, on top of his game otherwise with bowling changes, erred only once. His introduction of the previously underutilised Andre Russell came when other choices were available. Russell clearly wasn’t comfortable and was pounded for 25 in his one over. By then, it didn’t matter much, the outcome was virtually over.
The West Indies came into the Sri Lanka tournament as one of the favourites not simply because they possess two of Twenty20’s most powerful hitters in Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard but because they and several others had mastered the nuances of the game in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Australia’s Big Bash.
So there was no panic from Gayle or anyone else on Friday night while he was confined to receiving 41 of the 120 balls of the innings. He knew, as he said afterwards, that once he stayed to the end he would “get runs”. He got 75 of them. He also knew, from his IPL experiences, what Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard could do.
It is the ideal matchup between typically high-spirited, carefree West Indians who take their lead from an underrated captain and one of contemporary cricket’s most popular players and his modern “Gangnam” dance moves, and the calmer, classical Sri Lankans, from a different culture from the other side of the planet.
To take their first ICC title since the 2004 Champions Trophy in England, the West Indies have to be on the same wavelength of self-belief and overall excellence they were on Friday.
Sri Lanka are far more rounded opponents than Australia. They have all the bases covered and will be backed by 30,000 noisy, passionate supporters in the Premadasa Stadium.
They will not be so easily beaten — but they can be.