THE ICC T20 tournament has a worthy final as West Indies take on the hosts, Sri Lanka. Both have excelled through the latter stages and possess exhilarating matchwinners but Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, will have one man in his thoughts more than any other: Chris Gayle.
Every team fears being the recipient of a Gayle assault. He can be so destructive, launching any bowler high into the crowd, that a game can be over in a matter of deliveries.
He certainly did for Australia in the semi-final but the issue is can he do it again in today’s final against Sri Lanka?
If he does then West Indies have a chance but if he is dismissed early then Sri Lanka should prevail. Not that West Indies are a one-man team. In Marlon Samuels and the huge and powerful Kieron Pollard they have other powerful hitters, but Gayle sets the tempo from the beginning.
What is interesting is the contrast in styles.
West Indies are muscle and might, hard hitters and less interested in scampered singles.
Sri Lanka are a team in the image of their captain, Jayawardene. He is the most artistic and aesthetically pleasing technician in the game. Like Gayle he opens the batting and frequently scores at a similar pace to the Jamaican but, instead of towering sixes, he clinically takes bowlers apart in the manner of a delicate surgeon.
His partner Tillikaratne Dilshan offers the free-swinging threat and then Kumar Sangakarra, much like Jayawardene, dissects the field.
West Indies offer all-out assault, Sri Lanka a more subtle attack.
It is the bowling that makes Sri Lanka so good, however, as they have so many options.
Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis have proved difficult to attack and exerted a stranglehold on Pakistan in the semi-final.
Not only do they turn the ball and offer mystery, they also get it to skid a bit, making it harder for batsmen to get under the ball to loft it. Allow Pollard to get under a ball as Australia’s Xavier Doherty did and, chances are, it will end up in the crowd.
West Indies need to score consistently against this pair or their innings will stutter.
The greater pressure will be on the seamers, Nuwan Kulasekara, Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga. The first two will be considered the easier bowlers to hit and Gayle will target these rather than Malinga. No one has yet managed to launch the slingers from Malinga – most success has come by using his pace, with glances and deflections.
Jayawardene uses him in single-over bursts, sometimes to stall a batsman and, at other times, to press for wickets.
West Indies lack these options with the ball but, in Sunil Narine, they have their own mystery spinner. He bowls out of the front of the hand and flicks it left or right with his fingers. He and Ravi Rampaul are the guaranteed performers for West Indies but Darren Sammy has to find 12 overs from a combination of himself, Samuels, Samuel Badree, Pollard, Gayle and Andre Russell. Bowl a decent over and you’ll get another one; get hit and the ball will be thrown to someone else.
The hope is that the wicket holds up for the final 40 overs of the tournament and provides a good enough surface that the game is decide by the players rather than the state of the pitch.
For Jayawardene it will be an emotional occasion. This is his fourth final for Sri Lanka and he has yet to win one. A victory at home would be just reward for one of the game’s finest players and characters. But, to do that, he must find a way to get Gayle out.