By Shashank Kishore in Galle
Weather and ground conditions hog attention ahead of ICC Women’s World Twenty20 kick-off
Sri Lanka and South Africa will contest the tournament opener, with weather and ground conditions likely to be the foremost thoughts in the minds of both teams. South Africa was given a rude wake-up call, losing its warm-up match to England by 121 runs, and Sri Lanka also lost its practice match, going down by four wickets against Pakistan.
However, Shashikala Siriwardena, the Sri Lanka captain, believes that the side has prepared well and the home advantage the team enjoys will be a distinct edge. "We've worked hard over the last one year, keeping in mind this tournament," she said after an intense two-hour practice session in Matara.
“We've been born and bred on these pitches, so we will have the advantage, given our knowledge of the local conditions. The tournament gives us a chance to prove what we're capable of. We are just looking at enjoying the moment and relishing the opportunity."
Siriwardena is not only the captain, but also Sri Lanka’s most prolific run-scorer. She replaced Dilani Manodara after Sri Lanka’s five-match Twenty20 International series in West Indies, and said the pressures of the job haven’t affected her.
"I enjoy captaincy,” said Siriwardena. “But when I'm out there with the bat, my thought process revolves around partnerships and runs, not about the bowling changes or team combinations. It is important for us to keep it simple."
Questions have been raised about the brittleness of Sri Lanka’s batting and whether it could put up the tall totals it needs to challenge the stronger teams. Siriwardena was quick to admit that batting was a concern. "Yes, it is a bit of a worry,” she said. “I think the bowlers and fielders have done their job, but then the batting needs to click as well. We have been working hard on it. Even in the warm-up game, I felt we threw away our wickets playing rash strokes."
The venues in Colombo aided spin, but Siriwardena believes things could be a little different in Galle, given the weather. "Early morning starts will mean the seamers will get some assistance,” she said. “Given the rain and overcast conditions in Galle, I think the toss will become vital too."
For its part, South Africa is a side well capable of inflicting a surprise or two. However, its recent form has been a bit of a worry. Although it is coming off a 2-1 T20I series win in Bangladesh, the batting hasn’t inspired much confidence.
Batting first in two of those games against Bangladesh, it could manage just 105 and 85. To add to its woes, the practice game against England ended in disappointing fashion, with South Africa bowled out for 59, chasing 181. Given that the conditions are only likely to get tougher in Galle, it will be a big challenge for South Africa to rise to the occasion.
Mignon du Preez, the captain, will be expected to lead from the front. She has emerged as the best batter in the side since making her debut in 2007. du Preez scored a half-century to steer South Africa home in the second T20I against Bangladesh earlier in September.
With the threat of rain looming large, the pitch remained under the covers for a majority of the day. The curator believes there could be a bit of help in it for the seamers, and if that holds, both teams will be wary of aiming for a very high total. The toss could have a vital say, but the teams must also be prepared for the possibility of a truncated contest.