Clinical Sri Lanka will test their skills against the flamboyant West Indies when both sides battle for their maiden World Twenty20 title in a mouth-watering final in Colombo on Sunday.
A sell-out crowd of 35,000 at the Premadasa stadium will offer boisterous support as Mahela Jayawardene’s home team attempt to reverse fortunes after losing three finals in major meets since 2007.
Standing in the way will be the destructive West Indies batting led by opener Chris Gayle, who crushed Australia in Friday’s semi-final with a scintillating 75 of 41 balls.
The West Indies recorded their biggest T20 victory when they beat the Aussies by 74 runs after posting the highest total in this edition of 205-4.
Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Marlon Samuels made light of the slow pitch that was regarded as unsuited to aggressive batting, helping themselves to 55 runs in the final three overs.
Sri Lanka defeated the West Indies by nine wickets in a practice game before the tournament and again by the same margin in the Super Eights, but Gayle was confident of ruining the hosts’ party on Sunday.
“We’re definitely going to rock against Sri Lanka,” the swashbuckling Jamaican left-hander said. “We know what to expect -- the atmosphere, the noise and everything else.
”We are definitely going to win this trophy here. I just feel confident about it. We are up against world class players in the Sri Lanka team, but it’s going to be good fun.“
Australia’s bamboozled captain George Bailey offered Sri Lanka good, if obvious, advice on how to beat the West Indies -- get Gayle early.
”If Sri Lanka can get Gayle out for under 20, they will win. But if they don’t, the West Indies will prove too strong,“ said Bailey.
”With the West Indies attack, you can chase down 160. I am sitting on the fence a bit. But the two best teams got into the final.“
Hosts Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were quietly confident they can stop the rampaging West Indies batsmen to win their first major title since the 1996 triumph in the 50-over World Cup.
Sri Lanka made the final of two successive World Cups in 2007 and 2011, and also the World Twenty20 in 2009, but were unable to cross the last hurdle when it mattered most.
Jayawardene said his team’s strategy on Sunday will be different from previous finals.
”They have all had to be approached in different ways,“ he said. ”One final was in Barbados (2007), one in England (2009) and one was in Mumbai (2011).
“But now we are playing in the Premadasa, so we will approach it differently. We have to adapt. It is all about handling tough situations better.”
The classy Sri Lankans have lost just one of their six games in the tournament so far: a seven-overs-a-side rain-affected game against South Africa in Hambantota in the preliminary league.
Jayawardene has himself led from the front with 210 runs, the fourth highest run-maker in the tournament behind Australian Shane Watson (249), Gayle (219) and Brendon McCullum of New Zealand (212).
Sri Lanka will be further boosted by the match-winning form of unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis, who shares the top spot among bowlers with Watson at 11 wickets apiece, and sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga, who has eight scalps.
The ICC, meanwhile, named the retiring Simon Taufel of Australia along with Pakistan’s Aleem Dar as the two on-field umpires for the final. Jeff Crowe of New Zealand will be the match referee.