Sri Lanka justifiably confident, but in-form Namibia are no pushovers

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© ICC/Getty Images David Wiese, the familiar name in the mix in the Namibia line-up © ICC/Getty Images

Big picture

The Sri Lanka of yore were legendary destroyers of associate sides. But if this team thinks Namibia is going to roll over for them, a quick glance at Namibia’s record should be sobering enough. Of the 22 T20Is Namibia have completed, they have won 18. They have also won each of their last six matches. The caveat is that of all these games, only one – against Ireland in 2019 – was against a full-member nation. But following comfortable victories over the UAE, Scotland and Papua New Guinea over the past three weeks (all of whom are at the World Cup) they are not just at their first T20 World Cup to make up the numbers. They will be competitive, and aiming for a spot in the Super 12s.

Namibia’s top order tends to pivot around Craig Williams and captain Gerhard Erasmus, but allrounder Johannes Smit has also been in excellent touch this year. Bernard Scholtz, the offspinner, is perhaps their leading bowling threat in turning conditions. Although Scholtz is not known to turn the ball substantially, he had been the leading wicket-taker in the T20 qualifier, with 15 wickets, along with an outstanding economy rate of 5.34. Somewhere in the middle of that line-up is also a more familiar name – David Wiese, the allrounder who played for South Africa in the 2016 T20 World Cup, and has now requalified for the neighbouring country.

Sri Lanka will feel confident going into the qualifiers. Oman gave them a scare in one of the matches those two teams played in the lead-up, but they were comfortable victors in the end. In the warm-ups, they squeezed past Bangladesh, and had little trouble against Papua New Guinea. There is a tinge of optimism to this campaign, as Sri Lanka feel they have raised their game over the past few months.

But it is worth mentioning that Sri Lanka were champions of the second-most-recent global T20 tournament, a little over seven years ago. No other side has made the final of this tournament more often. And yet they arrive at this World Cup not only having to qualify for the main draw, but with T20s easily the worst of their three formats. It has been a dramatic slip.

Form guide

(completed matches, most recent first)

Namibia WWWWW

Sri Lanka LLLWW

In the spotlight

Craig Williams‘ last four T20I scores are 57, 50, 57, and 81. Thanks to those scores, he is easily Namibia’s top scorer this year, with 259 runs at a strike rate of 142. He may be among Namibia’s oldest – at 37, with a List A debut way back in 2007 – but as the form batter in the outfit, he will want to hit the ground running against Sri Lanka.

© Sri Lanka Cricket Avishka Fernando has been Sri Lanka’s best batter recently © Sri Lanka Cricket

Avishka Fernando, meanwhile, has been Sri Lanka’s best batter over the four games they have played recently. He hit 83 not out off 59 balls to rescue them from 51 for 4 in the first game against Oman, before hitting 62 not out off 42 in the warm-up against Bangladesh, then 61 off 37 in the second warm-up against Papua New Guinea. This success has come at No. 4, where he has very rarely played in the past. Apparently the move was prompted by some data that Sri Lanka’s temporary consultant Mahela Jayawardene had dug up. If he can replicate this kind of success through the tournament, Sri Lanka will be some way to solving their top order problems.

Pitch and conditions

It’s expected to be warm, even after sunset. The Abu Dhabi surface is likely to be spin-friendly, but moderate scores have been the norm there.

Team news

Sri Lanka’s main batting question is: who will bat at No. 3? If Kusal Perera is fit enough to make his return following a hamstring problem (he played in one of the warm-ups), he is likeliest to go there. Charith Asalanka and Dhananjaya de Silva are the other options. And against Namibia, they might be tempted to try the mystery spin of Maheesh Theekshana over Akila Dananjaya.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Avishka Fernando, 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Charith Asalanka, 7 Dasun Shanaka (capt.), 8 Chamika Karunaratne, 9 Wanindu Hasaranga, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Maheesh Theekshana

Namibia may be tempted to stick with the same XI that won their most-recent T20I, against Papua New Guinea.

Namibia (possible): 1 Stephan Baard, 2 Zane Green (wk), 3 Craig Williams, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (capt.), 5 David Wiese, 6 JJ Smit, 7 Pikky Ya France, 8 Jan Frylinck, 9 Ben Shikongo, 10 Bernard Scholtz, 11 Michael van Lingen

Stats and trivia

  • Namibia have never played a South Asian side in a T20I. Their only losses have come against Netherlands, Papua New Guinea (twice), and Ireland – all in 2019.
  • Sri Lanka have lost nine of the 12 T20Is they have played this year. Two of their wins came against a severely depleted India.
  • Avishka has not scored a half-century in his 21 recognised T20I innings. He has batted at No. 4 only once so far, though.

    Quotes

    “Craig has been in really good touch. He really brings that experience – he’s been involved for many years now. He’s really bought into a role in the last couple of months in this format. He’s really been the glue of our top five. But he’s also one of those batters where there’s no complacency there. Tomorrow’s a new day – he’s got that type of attitude. Age, for him, is not an issue at 37. What he’s put in for cricket Namibia over 13-14 years is phenomenal. He’s going to walk on to that pitch tomorrow as a senior player, and that’s something he’ll treasure for the rest of his life.”

    Namibia coach Lennie Louw on his team’s form batter

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