LONDON: In keeping with a captivating tournament where sustained excellence has been consistently rewarded, the Twenty20 World Cup semifinalists have been the best teams in the competition.
South Africa meet Pakistan in Nottingham on Thursday (1630) followed by Sri Lanka against West Indies at the Oval on Friday (1630). The final will be staged at Lord's on Sunday (1300).
A Sri Lanka-Pakistan final would provide an emotional climax to the tournament following the armed attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore in March. Captain Kumar Sangakkara was one of six Sri Lanka players wounded by a small group of heavily armed men who killed six Pakistani policemen and the driver of the bus carrying the match officials.
The more likely outcome is an enticing clash of cultures and styles between the innovative and intelligent Sri Lankans and the rigorously drilled and athletic South Africans.
After grinding their way to a narrow victory against New Zealand in the first round, South Africa have gone from strength to strength.
They cover all bases in attack and defense with high pace from Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell, effective spin from Johan Botha and Roelof van der Merwe, sharp fielding and lengthy batting headed by Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis.
Kallis epitomizes the team's ambition and spirit. Derided as too conservative for one-day cricket, he has proven an effective opening partner for captain Smith and at 34 he is bowling with the zest of a man 10 years younger.
Sri Lanka, as they did in the 50-over game at the 1996 World Cup, are setting the pace in Twenty20 cricket.
Lacking power hitters, once thought essential, they have compensated with artistry and invention. Leading the charge are Tiilakaratne Dilshan with the scoop shot over his head and Mahela Jayawardena, who has discovered a bewildering variety of ways to score runs including a reverse sweep with the back of his bat.
Their bowling is equally effective. Lasith Malinga has demonstrated a masterly command of bouncers, yorkers and change of pace and Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis both contain and attack with their unorthodox spin.
Pakistan, the most mercurial team in world cricket, have improved dramatically since losing to England in the first round.
Their strength lies in the bowling where Umar Gul destroyed New Zealand with reverse swing. Shahid Afridi's batting has fallen off but his brisk leg-spin has been a constant danger backed up by off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and his dangerous doosra.
West Indies look the most fallible of the semi-finalists but, after losing two tests and two one-day internationals to England last month, they feel they have the most to prove.
If the sun shines and their supporters continue to turn out in force they have the talent in Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Fidel Edwards to emulate their heady Lord's triumphs of 1975 and 1979 in the first two one-day World Cups.
(China Daily 06/18/2009 page22)