It may be surprising to see a headline like that given how the tournament has panned out so far. But things will be different now, as the knockouts have begun – a different side of the teams will emerge now - remember the IPL knockouts this year – how DD and CSK responded in contrasting ways which were so contradictory to their group-stage performances?
Big occasions bring out big match temperament and the teams which have the most players who have shown that most regularly in the past, have the best chance. It is worth invoking here the table we had put forward in our preview piece. The last column is the most important one now – SDs or Series/Tournament-defining performances in career. The Pakistani squad has 25 amongst its players – a huge number – almost double that of the next best India (eliminated), South Africa (eliminated) West Indies and Australia/Sri Lanka.
TEAM TABLES BEFORE TOURNAMENT BEGAN
NOTE: All IMPACT numbers between 0 and 5.
Interestingly, the four highest impact bowling sides made the final 4 – an interpretation we had not made (a learning experience for us too) but it falls within a trend in the ODI World Cup and the IPL too.
The group stages have camouflaged the weaknesses of both Sri Lanka and Australia – both have their 3 highest impact batsmen at the top – and they delivered right through for their respective teams – good for their results so far but not for preparation for this tougher phase. Australia, in fact, had Shane Watson win four consecutive MoM awards – the moment he failed (against Pakistan), as did his opening partner (Warner), the whole façade came crashing down.
Here is the Impact chart for the 8 main sides in the tournament so far (without accounting for matches with Associate teams and the 7-over Haiku SA-SL match). The most interesting finding for us is that India is the second-highest impact side in the tournament. This suggests there was nothing wrong either with their batting or with their bowling, within the context of the matches they played. They just had one poor match (against Australia – where they were very unlucky) – so, this suggests Dhoni is right after all; India did play “satisfactorily” – never mind the inappropriate waiting game his team played when South Africa just needed 121 to knock India out (which is not something Impact Index can measure yet). In fact, if you look at the scoresheets, everybody got some runs at some point – which augured well for the knockouts for India. Perhaps many observers/experts have got swayed by the manner in which the runs came – somewhat scratchy, not flowing smoothly (and aesthetically) but given the conditions, that has been more or less the norm – except for the top-order performances of Sri Lanka and Australia, no-one else managed any different. Perhaps these people missed that.
Australia’s is an interesting case. They chased every time and their bowlers kept the match well within control twice – though against India, with a 3-spin attack waiting to get at them, even India’s 140 may have been adequate (just like Pakistan’s 149 emphatically was just 4 days later) but the rain destroyed the dry conditions for those Indian bowlers (negating their effect) and the Australian batsmen finished the match off easily. Since their batting impact was spread over just their 3 top players, overall, their batting impact is not as high as it would have been if more players had registered an impact (the essence of playing as a team).
NOTE: All IMPACT numbers between 0 and 5.
It is also not surprising to see West Indies at the bottom – they won just 2 of their 4 matches squarely, and yet they reached the semis. There was some luck involved here – as was the ability to win the big moments – something that will be all-important now. Their bowling was particularly poor, and that is what will need to come to the fore now – the good news for them is – history suggests it will. The majority of their SDs tally has come from their bowlers (or from bowling all-rounders) and this suggests that their bowlers already have a history of rising to the big occasion. It is also worth keeping in mind that their highest impact bowler, also the most emphatic big match player in this team, Samuel Badree, has played only 2 matches in this tournament thus far. West Indies have not put their best foot forward in this tournament so far, especially when it comes to bowling.
If Pakistan and West Indies do not make it to the final now, they would both have underachieved, going by the composition of the squads and the kind of success those players have had.
Here are previews of their match-up:
SRI LANKA vs PAKISTAN
Thanks to the consistency of their top 3, especially Jayawardene, Sri Lanka have not been tested yet. If they do not include Chandimal (a very high impact T20 batsman) and perhaps even Munaweera (high impact and big match player) in their XI, they will be tempting fate.
The Sri Lankan bowling has done well – with Ajantha Mendis (though very erratic), Dananjay and Kulasekara having done well. And, of course, there is Malinga, a big match player (1 SD). Curiously, Thisara Perera and Ajantha Mendis are their main big match players (2 SDs each).
Pakistan will be a transformed side in the semis – Shoaib Malik and Imran Nazir have the highest number of SD performances (a stunning 7 and 4 respectively) – their propensity to produce their best in big matches is a matter of record. Incredibly, all their players likely to play on Thursday have an SD performance under their belt except - hold your breath - Saeed Ajmal and Umar Akmal. Interesting, because these two have been Pakistan’s highest impact bowler and batsman respectively in this tournament so far.
In Colombo, conditions will favour both teams equally – given their strengths in spin. Pakistan would have to really crack up and grossly underachieve to lose this one, regardless of how well Sri Lanka play. Interestingly, both teams are mediocre chasers in T20 cricket, so both will probably look to bat first – though conditions could have the last say here.
AUSTRALIA vs WEST INDIES
Like Sri Lanka, Australia are top-heavy too – their solution is straightforward – get David Hussey in (for Maxwell – easy swap). Along with his brother, he is the most emphatic big match Australian player (2 SDs apiece). David Hussey’s bowling will come in handy in these conditions too.
Shane Watson has 1 SD to his credit and there is little doubt that he would be the most crucial wicket for West Indies on Friday. The superhuman form he has been in (4 consecutive MoMs) doesn’t have a precedent - to be so reliant on one player though is unhealthy, especially in a big match.
And that could be precisely West Indies’ problem too. Chris Gayle is very emphatically not a big match player – his count of SDs is…zero. There’s a hit-or-miss element about him in big matches (and it is been mostly miss) – the West Indies batting is perhaps too reliant on all-rounders – Dwayne Bravo the most significant name there. Fitting in Darren Bravo and Lendl Simmons in the side (both of whom have an SD each) has to be the way to go for them – but it is doubtful if Charles or Russell will make way (though they very emphatically should).
West Indian bowling will play a key role – Samuel Badree and Sunil Narine will enjoy the Colombo pitch. Rampaul-Sammy-Samuels-Gayle-Pollard can surely handle the remaining 12 overs.
This will be a match about the team that cracks up less, as both have weak spots. But we pick West Indies, given the big match talent, the clear advantage they have in the spin department, and the overall firepower. Chris Gayle may not be as much of a factor as most people think. If he is, then West Indies are almost certain to prevail.
Of course, all this assumes rain will not destroy the show – by shortening the match (South Africa-Sri Lanka) or skewing conditions for one team (India-Australia).
The weather needs to have a very low impact on the 3 matches now…or it could tragically be a Series/Tournament-defining role.