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World T20: Jayawardene holds the key for Sri Lanka

Sunday, 7 October 2012 - 12:30pm IST Updated: Sunday, 7 October 2012 - 1:17am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

But you cannot discount the West Indies and their own big-hitting superstar, Chris Gayle.

Sri Lanka have to be favourites for the World Twenty20 final, although it would be better for world cricket if West Indies won, because it would be the best stimulus the sport in the Caribbean has received for 20 years.

Sri Lanka will not only have home advantage, they also have more senior and seasoned players, some of whom have played in three world cup finals of various lengths, albeit losing all three.

In a final, such experience is gold-dust for batsmen. For Sri Lanka's captain Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, an ear-blasting, flag-waving cauldron of 30,000 is standard fare as veterans of the Indian Premier League.

No opening batsman in this tournament has been so authoritative as Jayawardene, not even Chris Gayle. Since the age of 13, Jayawardene has been used to thousands flocking to watch him bat; and he deserves belated reward for his century against India in Mumbai last year, which would have been enough to win most 50-over World Cup finals.

And even if their top three fail, Sri Lanka have a depth of batting that West Indies lack. England did Sri Lanka a favour in their final Super Eight match by dismissing the top three in the first 10.2 overs, which gave the rest of their batsmen a test they passed well.

Angleo Mathews is a mercurial talent, Jeevan Mendis adept against spin, and Thisara Perera a left-handed bruiser. But they also have a proper batsman down the order in Lahiru Thirimanne if all goes wrong, whereas West Indies have loads of big-hitters - great on a flat pitch against ordinary bowling - but only three batsmen of sound technique in Gayle, Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Bravo. The inclusion of Darren Bravo, instead of Andre Russell, would help rectify this imbalance.

West Indies staged the perfect innings against Australia, scoring 205 from 20 overs, and Gayle, Samuels, Bravo and Kieron Pollard were inspired. Two days later against Sri Lanka's bowling - far more varied than Australia's - they cannot return to such heights, especially if under the added pressure of batting second.

Whatever the result though, the most important fruit of this tournament has been the revival of the West Indian spirit. It is not Test cricket, where they still have a long way to go, but at least there is one format in which Caribbean qualities are being reborn: fielding of an athleticism beyond the reach of other countries; the big hitting; and an exuberance, a sheer joy, now encapsulated in Gayle's celebratory dance.

The revival has been led by two proud and passionate Jamaicans not prepared to be cheerful losers: Samuels, who proved himself a serious Test batsman against England, and Gayle, restored to the side in June after the latest of the West Indian board's ridiculous spats with their senior players.

Blessed at last with the coolest of role-models in Gayle, cricket in the Caribbean is - for now - on the way back.

-- Elsewhere, Kevin Pietersen has been asked by the ECB to drop his legal cases against more than one newspaper as part of his gradual reintegration into the England set-up.

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