World Twenty20: Serious business starts for Steve Finn
Fast bowler has eye on T20 poster boy Chris Gayle in Super Eight match against Windies
The launch of the Super Eights always tingles the spine. It seems to mark the proper start of the tournament, the clashes of the big guns in the World Twenty20.
Take the match between England and West Indies tomorrow, for instance, which features a side who lost their second and final group match by 90 runs against a side who won neither of their two games. What's not to be excited about?
There is no straightforward way round this apparent nonsense. It stems from the need to have mini-groups at the start of the competition in which the sides from smaller, less skilled cricketing countries can be encouraged. The sport has to do this or perish. Make the groups bigger and there would be too many one-sided matches (and there has not been a close one yet). Add the rain, of which admittedly there is about an 85 per cent chance in Sri Lanka in late September and which disrupted both West Indies' matches, then you have the potential for a hotch-potch.
By hook or by crook, however, the Super Eights features all the teams which would be less likely to have a case brought against them under the Trades Descriptions Act. There are two groups of four, in Pallekele and Colombo, with the top two in each contesting the semi-finals.
In the first of tomorrow's matches, Sri Lanka, the hosts, play New Zealand, as ever the dark (all black) horses. England and West Indies follow them in the floodlit match at the excellent Pallekele Stadium.
The ground is 30 minutes' drive from Kandy, the country's second city. The route goes past the man-made Kandy Lake, over the bridge across the Mahaweli River and then alongside the International Buddhist Academy.
There are grassy banks on either side (which should be full in the next few days) and the bowlers' ends must have the most exotic names of all grounds: the Hunnasgiriya and the Rikillagaskada.
West Indies, of course, possess the most celebrated Twenty20 batsman who ever existed in Chris Gayle, who has eight hundreds in all. New Zealand, England's Super Eight opponents on Saturday have Brendon McCullum, the second most celebrated.
West Indies against England promises one of those contests-within-the-contest that continue to make the game so fascinating: Gayle against Steve Finn. There is no doubt that Finn will be attempting to take Gayle's wicket, not contain him, and that Gayle will not be pussyfooting about.
So far it is Finn 1, Gayle 0. At Trent Bridge in June, Gayle naturally tried to hook a bouncer. It was on him more quickly than he thought and he was caught at long leg. "He's obviously a very important player for them but by no means is he their only dangerous player," Finn said yesterday. "It's important we don't just think about Chris Gayle. For me, potentially opening the bowling against him, it's going to be up to me to set the tone against him."
Gayle's vibrant character is as alluring as his batting. When he took wickets in the abbreviated game against Ireland on Monday he celebrated with a dance that, it transpired, is known as the gangnam.
Finn said: "I've never spoken to him, I'm sure he'd be an interesting character to get to know. Even when he's out there in the middle he's got an aura about him and when you're watching him on TV he's got a massive aura about him. It's exciting to come up against people like that."
If Gayle gets going, England can probably forget it. Of the 89 T20 hundreds scored in internationals, the Indian Premier League, the Champions League and the English and Australian domestic competitions, only 14 have been in a losing cause. Still, it can happen. The only international occurrence was when Gayle scored 117 in the first World Twenty20 match in 2007 and finished on the losing side.
Apart from the array of Caribbean sluggers, England's other big test tomorrow, in view of events in Colombo last Sunday, is likely to be against Sunil Narine, the 24-year-old Trinidadian mystery off-spinner, who has been a handful so far in limited-overs cricket.
He may find Pallekele more to his liking than the grounds he encountered in England a few months ago. It should be possible to deduce in four overs if England have learnt anything.
Gayle force: Batsman's record
Chris Gayle v England Innings: 5, Balls faced: 95, Runs: 108, Dismissals: 2 Ave: 21.60, Strike rate: 129.6 Highest score: 61
Chris Gayle v Steve Finn Innings: 1, Balls faced: 6 Runs: 1, Ave: 1, Dismissals: 1, Strike rate: 16.7
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