Sri Lanka are favourites to open their Super Eight campaign with a win in this game but Ross Taylor’s New Zealand have shown in the group stages that this may not be as easy as the odds suggest (11am BST, Thursday Sept 27).
If the Kiwis are to triumph, then their hopes are likely to rest with just one man. Brendon McCullum is the number one ranked batsman in International T20 cricket and against Bangladesh last week, his incredible knock of 123 secured the highest individual score since Twenty20 began.
If Sri Lanka are to win and justify their tag as favourites, they need to dismiss McCullum as early as possible.
The hosts have yet to be tested in this tournament, even though they lost one of their matches in the group stages. However, that game against South Africa was reduced to seven overs a side thanks to the weather and in such a short contest it’s not always wise to take the result too seriously.
In the one game that did go the distance, Mahela Jayawardene’s side looked impressive as they beat an admittedly weak Zimbabwe outfit by 82 runs. Kumar Sangakkara top scored in that match with 44 but several of the batsmen including Jeevan Mendis and Tillakaratne Dilshan took the opportunity to find some form.
When the time came to bowl, Ajantha Mendis was the star performer as he returned world record figures of 6-8 from his four overs. Mendis will be a vital part of the Sri Lankan efforts in this game but the Kiwis should be wary of concentrating on one bowler when the attack contains the world class pace of Lasith Malinga.
For New Zealand, it would be wrong to suggest that they are a one-man team. However the performances of Brendon McCullum in the group stage matches underlined just how much his side have come to rely on his batting.
The wicket keeper-batsman followed up that 123 with a knock of 32 from 31 balls in the defeat to Pakistan on Sunday. It still offered a reasonable contribution as Ross Taylor’s side looked to chase down 177 but it certainly didn’t show McCullum at his fluent best against a much stronger attack. Sri Lanka’s bowling is equally challenging as the Pakistani’s and New Zealand simply need McCullum to be at his best.
The Kiwi bowling attack also looks to be a concern as it seems incapable of bowling sides out or restricting the opposition run rate. New Zealand therefore seemed destined to chase big scores or post high totals for their bowlers to defend. Once again, either of those scenarios needs the help of one man – Brendon McCullum.
If the weather is kind and Duckworth Lewis comes into play, the greater consistency of the Sri Lankans together with the fact that they have more individuals capable of turning a game, suggests that the home side are the better bet for the win.