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Opinion
The Charming Islanders Fight For Glory
By Gowhar Geelani
Perchance two of the most attractive teams have qualified for the finals of the ICC World T20 competition, 2012. Mahela Jayawardene's astute leadership is hidden from none. On the other hand, Chris Gayle's batting prowess gives sleepless nights to the bowlers. The two different teams from two unique islands find themselves in an unfamiliar territory - World T20 Finals. It would be tough for the cricket fans to favour only one of them. A Gayle-Pollard fan is probably also a Mahela-Sanga admirer! Enthusiasts will perhaps be equally happy irrespective of the fact which team clinches the title eventually.

The good news for Sri Lanka is they're playing at home. Their die-hard followers will be cheering for them all the way! The bad news for the hosts is that Gayle, Samuels, Bravo, and Pollard are in supreme touch. If Lanka have high hopes from skilful Herath and Mendis, the Caribbean giants would believe in deftness of Narine and Badree. After seeing what the West Indies did to Australia in the semis, Sri Lanka captain would prefer a dust bowl than a flat deck for the finals to overwhelm the guests from the Caribbean Islands.

Meanwhile, Pakistan and Australia - the two other semi-finalists - have paid a heavy price for their complacency and silly mistakes.

It was Pakistan's bowling genius that ensured they survived in the ICC World T20 event until the semi-final stage. They restricted the mighty Aussies to 117; South Africa to 133 and the in-form hosts Sri Lanka to 139 only. However, Pakistan's main concern has been their unreliable and inconsistent batting. And then their selection policy has baffled one and all. Anyone who has played the game of cricket at a decent level at some stage would understand that this sport involves many a skills: batting, bowling, fielding, strategy, seizing the initiative and key moments in the game, and above all the mental strength to handle pressure situations.

In the bowling department there is no match to Pakistan's skill levels, genius, guile, and their overall variety and strength. Hardly anyone could doubt Pakistan's potential and their uncanny knack to spring up surprises, but their fragile batting remains a cause of real concern! Their overall record in the T20 competitions has been impeccable. They have reached the semis in all the four ICC tourneys so far since the inaugural edition of the shorter version of cricket in 2007; reached the finals twice, and won the championship once in 2009.

Who were Pakistan's best batsmen? The answer undoubtedly is: Nasir Jamshed, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal. And on what positions did they bat in the tournament? Well, Wrong Number! On what decisive factor was mediocre Imran Nazir persisted with despite repeated failures against quality attacks? Since his comeback to the national side, Nazir has scored 104 runs in eight games against the sides like Australia, South Africa, India and New Zealand at a trivial average of 13 runs per innings. His only score of note, 72, has come against a weaker opposition in Bangladesh. Shockingly, Pakistan kept experimenting with this middle-of-the-road player while ignoring his inconsistent scores. The only consistency one could associate with Nazir is his batting failures against the tougher opponents!

Why didn't Pakistan open the innings with Kamran Akmal and Nasir Jamhed, the much sought-after right and left-hand combination in any format? Why did Umar Akmal, perhaps the best batter in the Pakistan dug out, come to bat either at sixth or seventh position? Young Akmal has been quite a sensation for Pakistan in this competition. In five games that he played, Akmal has scored 125 runs which includes a match winning knock of 43* against South Africa; 29* versus Sri Lanka in the semis; a quickfire 23 against the Kiwis; 21 versus the arch-rivals India. He has been dismissed only twice in the tournament. Umar Akmal has scored his runs at a decent average of 62.50. But he was forced to bat with tail-enders in almost all the matches. On what grounds was a game-changer in Abdul Razzaq sidelined in all the crunch games?

One thing which became crystal clear in the T20 competition is the fact that those teams which allowed their best batsmen to face more balls have succeeded and qualified for the semis or the finals. On the contrary, the teams protecting their best batters have either struggled or bowed out during the business end of the tournament.

Mahela Jayawardene, T Dilshan and K Sangakkara are by far the best batsmen Sri Lankan team possesses; they come to bat at position 1, 2 and 3 respectively. This could only be described as a smart and sensible tactic. Their middle order too is handy with Mathews, J Mendis, and T Perera. No wonder they're already in the finals and look hot-favorites to clinch the title this time around.

Similarly, the Kangaroos had their main arsenal in the shape of Shane Watson, David Warner and Michael Hussey; all of them batted at the top three positions. Well, they qualified for the semis. But the team lacked in quality spin department and their middle order batting also remained largely untested for major part of the tournament. They paid a price for this against Pakistan in the Super Eights and West Indies in the semis.

Strangely, India too did the total opposite of what Sri Lanka, Australia and West Indies did so successfully. They made their number seven bowling all-rounder, Irfan Pathan, to open the innings. Only an inexperienced hand would prefer Irfan over the real impact player like Virender Sehwag. It is a shame that one of the world's most feared batsman Sehwag was dropped for the game against Australia.

All said and done, the hosts Sri Lanka are in the finals and will clash with an equally balanced opponent in West Indies. The team that handles the pressure better than the other shall lift the title on Sunday!

The columnist is a professional writer and journalist with international experience. He can be reached at [gowhargeelani@gmail.com].


News Updated at : Sunday, October 7, 2012
 
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