Mercurial Pakistan face stern Sri Lanka test
Their confidence on a high after the big win over Australia, a supremely talented Pakistan will come out all guns blazing against hosts Sri Lanka in the first semi-final of the ICC World Twenty20 in Colombo on Thursday.
It will be a battle of attrition between the two sides who had met in the final of the 2009 edition of the tournament in England where Pakistan emerged victorious.
The scene is entirely different this time around as Mohammed Hafeez and his boys will be facing a formidable Sri Lankan outfit in their own backyard.
What will be the most interesting thing to see is battle between the top quality spin departments of both sides.
Image: Pakistan's captain Mohammad Hafeez (left) discusses with coach Dav Whatmore
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Battle between the mystery spinners
The most intriguing of the battles will be between two mystery spinners -- Ajantha Mendis and Saeed Ajmal.
While Mendis has roared back to form during this edition of World T20 having taken nine wickets in five games which also include an astonishing six for eight against Zimbabwe, Ajmal has been a consistent performer for Pakistan in the past few years.
However, Pakistan, which has the likes of Hafeez, Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed and the Akmal brothers, are better players of spin bowling.
And it will be interesting to watch as to what tricks can Mendis pull out of his bag on a slow R Premadasa track that has been assisting spinners.
Pakistan, on the otherhand, will be expecting the trio of Ajmal, Hafeez and young left-arm spinner Raza Hassan to ask difficult questions to Sri Lankan top order that has three world class batsmen in Tillekaratne Dilshan, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.
Image: Ajantha Mendis
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
Sri Lanka's world class batsmen can drive them home
Dishan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara all have been among runs and know the Premadasa track like the back of their hand.
The only advantage that Pakistan will have over Sri Lanka is the number of matches that they have played at this venue.
Having played three matches and won two, Hafeez and his men have an idea of what to expect from the Premadasa surface.
The Lankans, on the other hand, have played all their matches at Hambantota and Pallekele, where the seamers got more help due to the conditions.
On the slow Premadasa track, one would expect Lasith Malinga to bowl blockhole deliveries more often as length balls are likely to get punished.
Image: Mahela Jayawardene
Photographs: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Afridi can be Pakistan's weak link
The only concern for Pakistan will be Shahid Afridi's form. The all-rounder has batted quite irresponsibly in the tournament so far.
Even Hafeez's ploy of sending him up the order hasn't worked as he has thrown away his wicket.
Afridi's bowling also hasn't been upto the mark. Although he has got a few wickets, his bowling has been pretty inconsistent and the batsmen have went after him using the pace of his deliveries.
As for the Lankans, the only weak link has been all-rounder Thisara Perera and vice-captain Angelo Mathews.
Mathews has bowled 12 overs in the tournament so far and has claimed only one wicket giving away 81 runs. In batting too, he hasn't got much chance to show his prowess as Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan have done bulk of the job.
But come Thursday, the Sri Lanka will expect to Mathews to fire as there is a chance that law of averages can catch up with the top three of the Lankan line-up.
In all, there is little to choose between the two teams as they lock horns for a place in Sunday's final.
Teams (from): Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Angelo Mathews,Dinesh Chandimal, Akila Dananjaya, Tillakaratne Dilshan,Shaminda Eranga, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Kulasekara, LasithMalinga, Ajantha Mendis, Jeevan Mendis, Dilshan Munaweera,Thisara Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Abdul Razzaq, AsadShafiq, Imran Nazir, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Sami, NasirJamshed, Raza Hasan, Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik,Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat.
Match Starts at 19:00 IST
Image: Shahid Afridi
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters