21 September 2012 - 11:45am IST
by Anand Vasu in Hambantota
It’s hard not to feel for Zimbabwe, whose contribution to the ICC WorldTwenty20 2012 was so negligible it felt a bit as though South Africa and SriLanka were given a first-round bye and a direct entry into the Super Eights.Brendan Taylor, Zimbabwe’s captain, is as earnest a cricketer you might hope to come across at this level, and the pain of having not performed anywhere closeto full potential was there for all to see.
But, if sympathy for Zimbabwe’s troubles – and these have been well documented over the years – matches the effort being put in to rebuild cricket in the country and the team at the international level, it’s not showing in the results. Some strong performances against a depleted South African team in an unofficial Twenty20 International series in Harare this June raised hopes, but the manner in which it were snuffed out by two vastly superior teams left the tournament in a spot of bother.
In a matter of three days a team has exited, and what should have been the first big match of the tournament – Saturday’s fixture between Sri Lanka and South Africa at the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, has been rendered a dead rubber with both teams already through to the Super Eights.Unlike in some past editions of the tournament, points from first-round wins are not carried through to the next phase, and the result will not have a bearing either on where the teams play next or who their opposition will be.
What impact this will have on the crowd situation remains to be seen, as hopes were high for the weekend fixture. At the opening game, between Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, the combination of the remoteness of the ground and the fact that it was a working day meant that the tournament opener was played out with a sizeable chunk of the 35,000 seats on offer going unused. The scene was,expectedly, worse on Thursday when two neutral teams played, but it’s far fromideal that there weren’t even enough people in the stands to call it a crowd. On Saturday, though, there’s a chance that the local support will be augmented by people making the trip from nearby Galle, and even further afield from Colombo.
If there’s one positive to take out of the situation it is that the game gives South Africa another chance to try and nail down its best combination for the tournament. It’s unusual that a major team enters a tournament such as this one without being 100% sure of what its make up should be. How a player like Francoise “Faf” du Plessis, with seemingly the perfect mix of attributes for the shortest version of the game, misses out, is an unusual case, and South Africa may want to give him a go, in the off chance that he needs to step in to fill the breach later on in the tournament. Farhaan Behardien, who is being seen as a finisher at No. 6, having played that role so successfully for his domestic franchise, the Titans, would also love to be stretched before South Africa hits must-win matches.
For Sri Lanka, the problem is one of plenty. With three allrounders in the team in Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera and Jeevan Mendis, the options are endless. At any given point of time Sri Lanka can bring in an extra batsman, fast bowler, spinner, or even give the big gloves to Dinesh Chandimal and let Kumar Sangakkara focus on batting, should it so desire. The conditions on the day will be the ultimate decider of what combination Sri Lanka plays, and this is a luxury not all teams have.
For the tournament to come alive, though, Sri Lanka and South Africa playing a tight game would be the ideal outcome. Given all the effort that has gone into putting this show together, it would be a shame if that did not happen.