Mumbai, Sept. 9 -- When we speak about a cricket tournament in Sri Lanka, the image is of playing in high humidity on slow, spinning wickets - conditions which visiting teams dread. But come the World Twenty20 Cup and the players might be in for a pleasant surprise. Normally, the hosts would be the leading contenders because of the depth and variety in their spin pack, but the ICC's blue riband T20 event might offer a more level-playing field to the participants. In recent times, as the scoreboards suggest, the wickets in Sri Lanka have played true. They have some juice for the pacers and the stroke players are relishing the true bounce.
The Indian players, who played there in July-August, vouch for it. In the highest wicket-takers chart, the top four were pacers, a big shift from the days when Sri Lanka strangled the opposition with their four-pronged spin attack led by Muttiah Muralitharan.
"The pitches during our series were not slow turners (like earlier). And I was watching the Sri Lanka Premier League games, the wickets had good bounce," said India Twenty20 team batsman Rohit Sharma.
Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan will still be among the top-contenders, but the more sporting nature of the playing surface will buoy defending champions England, South Africa, West Indies and Australia too, raising expectations of closely-contested encounters.
Sri Lanka's senior player Kumar Sangakkara has picked the hosts as favourites even while announcing that Sri Lankan pitches have become less spin-friendly.
Among the three venues, wickets at the recently-built Pallekele and Hambantota stadiums have suited seam bowling. The third one, the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, where India play all their matches and where the semifinals and final will be played, has been re-laid. The Colombo stadium used to be synonymous with typical Sri Lankan wickets - sluggish where stroke-making is difficult - where winning the toss and putting runs on the board almost ensured victory. But since last year, it has also seen bounce and carry, and now winning the toss holds no major advantage as proved during India's recent performances there. They won the third and fourth ODIs played there chasing totals of 286 and 255.
"In the ODI series, the ball was carrying and our pacers led by Irfan Pathan did well. It should be a good tournament with high-scoring games. India has recently played there and that experience of the conditions will help them in the tournament," said Lalchand Rajput, coach of the 2007 World T20 winning team. The better playing conditions have only raised the expectations of an open WT20, where teams with better all-round qualities will excel.
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Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.