Pakistan didn’t know until late on Tuesday night whether they’d have to keep their hotel reservations in Colombo for a few more days. But when South Africa’s Robin Peterson gloved a ball for a single to take the score to 122 against India, a roar went around the Premadasa. It sounded as though Sri Lanka were playing, but the noise was from a legion of Pakistan fans who were celebrating their team’s progress to the semi-finals on net run rate, at India’s expense. There wasn’t much separating the two sides, but Pakistan were better placed because they got their tactics right and won big against Australia earlier in the evening.
Spin has been Pakistan’s strength in this tournament and their captain Mohammad Hafeez used his resources astutely. If that meant giving a rookie spinner the new ball and making the most experienced fast bowler wait till the 18th over, then so be it. The plan was to suffocate the Australians with turn on a sluggish pitch and it worked to such an extent that even Shane Watson had a rare, bad outing. The fielders made Australia’s qualifying target of 112 seem distant. As a result, Pakistan play their fourth World Twenty20 semi-final tomorrow, but unlike on Tuesday, they will not have the lion’s share of the support.
Sri Lanka are familiar opponents for Pakistan. The hosts were the more dominant side when Pakistan visited in June-July. Sri Lanka looked a more settled side in the Super Eights, making heavy weather of the chase against New Zealand (which culminated in a Super Over victory) and trouncing West Indies and England. The return of Ajantha Mendis has given their spin attack more bite and the seamers, Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara don’t offer respite.
It’s ironic though that the semi-final is Sri Lanka’s first game in Colombo during this World Twenty20. They love playing at the Premadasa and the pitch – not as quick as the ones Pakistan played on in June – should suit their spinners. Sri Lanka haven’t had a world title since 1996. They are two games away from breaking the drought, at home.