LONDON // Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan captain, is good at thinking outside the box. Only a master theorist would claim, as he did last week, that Twenty20 is a game made for bowlers. His West Indies counterpart Chris Gayle, who will be trying to outwit Sangakkara when the sides meet this evening, might not agree but he sees his point. With bowling firepower like that, he reasons, Sri Lanka's supremo would say that.
"He has a lot of variation in his bowling attack and good quality bowlers with it, in the shape of Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga," said Gayle. "Whatever total they put on the board they have the bowling attack to defend it. Hopefully we can counter-attack and get the better of them." When West Indian dominance on the cricket field, inspired by Michael Holding and Viv Richards, reached its zenith at the Oval in 1976, Sri Lanka were still six years from playing their first Test.
The West Indians still look and feel at home at the Oval, but they start this encounter with Sri Lanka as definite second-favourites. According to the Caribbean side's captain, his players feel "honoured" to have reached this far in the World Twenty20. Anything else will be a bonus. "I am really happy to be here, because people didn't expect us to get this far," he said. "Whatever happens now, I am really proud of the guys. Bearing in mind what has been going on previously in the summer in England, I am grateful to be in the semi-finals.
"We are going to be positive, give it our best shot. We are looking to win, but we are not going to take it for granted that we are here." Sri Lanka can pick from a fully-fit squad, but the West Indies may again be without their fast-bowling kingpin, Fidel Edwards, who missed their last outing with a back injury. The official line on Edwards, whose fitness will be reassessed this afternoon, is that the medical staff are "optimistic" he will be able to play a part.
Yet Gayle seemed less enthused by his chances. He added: "He is a wicket-taker for us and can change the game. He was missed in the last game even though we won." The West Indies do have the advantage of being fully au fait with conditions at the Oval, having played most of their matches there so far in the competition. The pitch will suit the batsmen, as is habitually the case at the south London ground, but Sangakkara is confident his spin bowlers will get greater assistance than they have thus far been afforded in the competition. "It is always an advantage to have prior experience of a ground you are a playing at, but that is not to be," said Sangakkara.
"It seems a good wicket, we have played one-day cricket here before. It is a good track with good bounce, which could help us when it comes to our spinners." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Second semi-final, live on ART Prime Sport, 8.30 pm