“Believe it – it is true. It is here!”, words spoken by an animated Desmond Tutu when we hosted the 2010 Football WC. It’s the same nervous excitement and energy hanging in the air this morning as Colombo prepares for an epic battle. And it couldn’t be between 2 more deserving teams. Sri Lanka vs W.Indies. It’s going to be like David and Goliath. The mighty and powerful W.Indies face up to the more diminutive, but accurate Sri Lankans. Swashbuckling Gayle vs refined Jayawardene. Big sixes vs crafty, well timed shots. The big smiling “Gangnam” dancer with an equally big bat, capable of inflicting mass destruction and devastation that only the likes of Mohammed Ali’s opponents could relate to, or also the Aussies after last Friday night. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would see the likes if Watson, Warner and co be pulverised and neutralised as they were. It was bliss. Sitting in the lower C stands with an earth worm’s view of the action, you could smell the fear as Gayle unleashed his power. I was pleased there was a fenced barrier between us. Not to stop the sixes raining down but to prevent me from running onto the field and doing my own Gangnam jiggle every time Chris wacked a monstrous 6 or an Aussie wicket crashed. That would have been hard work. And I’d probably be arrested as well.
It was a thing of great beauty. That’s what this game is all about. Big action. And the master blaster for the decade has to be Mr Gayle. The smiling assassin (armed with a bazooka). So the Aussies are headed home, whimpering with their blow up kangaroos packed away for next time. Thankfully now as one of a few pale faced supporters left in the crowds, hopefully we’ll not be mistaken for Poms or Aussies. I’m trying to blend in as a W.Indian. But I may need a few more weeks.
Our dilemma for tonight is who to support? Coming into this tournament it was the proteas (don’t say it too loudly) but only just narrowly ahead of the Indians, then the home team Sri Lanka. But I’m afraid the W.Indies seem to have won me over. Although nothing has been set in stone yet…… The problem with not having either Poms or Aussies in the final is that there is no-one to hurl abuse at. Picking a side would be easy (unless of course it was the Poms against the Aussies in which case I’d give away my tickets and go surfing, drinking, train dodging, knitting or looking for aliens.)
I’ve always liked Gayle – he did lose some bonus points when he defected from my IPL favourites KKR to play for some other non descript team in red. More importantly, the way that the W.Indies under captain Darren Sammy, seem to have pulled together as a team, a close knit unit, proud of their achievements and looking forward to making their mark on international cricket once again in all formats of the game. A very athletic team with some great young talent. Charles looks set for greatness, no doubt picking up some tips from the master while he is out their opening with him. Narine, a talented young spinner could play a role on this pitch, but their main attacking bowlers Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards will have to be spot on or it will be costly. I think it’s unfair that all the pressure is on Gayle, that if he doesn’t perform the W.Indies will collapse. Charles has shown some promise and Pollard is hopefully back to his old self. But if Chris fires, I see Colombo burning.
On the other hand we have the local heroes who are a proud, skilled team. I do like the Lankans. Sanga is gorgeous and Malinga is so cute I could wrap him up and take him home. (Choosing a team to support is not necessarily only about bat and ball skills you know! A level of charm and looks also feature).
So, the home team must have the cricketing advantage as they know and understand these pitches. It may turn out to be a slow pitch with some turn, which their spinners will love. Skipper Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakarra, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Lasith Malinga have all played in three losing finals.They will want this more than ever. It would be heart breaking for them to lose yet again at the finishing line. And in a packed, 35 000 capacity crowd at Premadasa, it could be carnage if they lose. They will have problems though if their openers fall apart early. Dilshan, Jayawardene and Sangakkara will have to deal with the pressure head on and get runs early. The mid order has been unpredictable and inconsistent. Their bowlers will have their work cut out for them, although other than Galye, the rest do seem to struggle more against spin.
33year old Gayle has firmly set down the gauntlet after winning on Friday “Sorry Sri Lanka, we love you but we are taking this home”. He said that with such cheeky determination that coming from anyone else it would be deemed arrogant. I’m stressed just trying to pick a side for today. But the big man may just sneak in ahead of Mahela. Damn.