Crowd support can be a double-edged sword. For some it can act as a massive boost, but if you can't hold your nerves it can also weigh heavily around your neck.
On Thursday night, the atmosphere at the R Premadasa Stadium was electric as the home fans packed the galleries in support of the local heroes. Unfortunately for the Sri Lankan supporters, instead of being charged up by the occasion, their batsmen looked weighed down by the pressure of expectations on what was one of the biggest nights of their cricket history.
All eyes were then on the Sri Lankan bowlers after their batting line-up had failed to fire against Pakistan on a slow pitch in the first semifinal of the World Twenty20. To the delight of the fans, Malinga & Co were inspired by the occasion and came up with a lion-hearted effort to power their team into the final.
Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath and Lasith Malinga were the toast of the Island nation, successfully defending a meagre total of 139 to script victory. Left-arm spinner Herath was an inspired selection as he was brilliant, taking three for 25 while Matthews took two for 27 and Mendis two for 27. Malinga was the most miserly, returning 4-0-19-0, including a superb 19th over which effectively put the game beyond Pakistan.
Skipper Mohammad Hafeez fought valiantly, and till he was there, it was anybody's game. The opener seemed to have tilted the balance in his side's favour in the 13th over when he hit Herath for a four and six to bring the equation down to 57 off 42 balls with six wickets in hand.
When Mendis went for eight in the 14th over, the pressure was on the home team. But Herath came back strongly in his next over, getting Hafeez stumped. Off his next ball, he had Shahid Afridi playing onto the stumps. The double blow sounded the death knell.
Electing to bat, the Sri Lanka innings had to be cautiously built. The seasoned warriors, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara looked comfortable but the others seemed to lose their nerve. The batsmen found it difficult to accelerate from 84 for one in 12.4 overs. To finish at 139 for four was not a great effort but it gave a fighting chance. To see an experienced campaigner like Tillakaratne Dilshan getting bogged down was surprising.
In decent touch till the final, the opener just couldn’t get the ball off the square. He almost stayed for the entire innings but had only three fours to show for when he got out in the 18th over, for 35 off 43 balls.
Jayawardene played brilliantly, trying all the tricks in the book to unsettle the Pakistani spinners. But the moment he got out, the scoring rate dipped. The home team never got the big over until the last one from Umar Gul, in which Thisara Perera and Angelo Mathews hammered 16 runs.
“Pakistan are a tough team to get past. We had to dictate today and I am happy we managed to do a good job,” Jayawardene said after taking over captaincy from Sangakkara.