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.
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.
(completed matches, most recent first)
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.
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.
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
“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 Pierre de Bruyn on his team’s form batter
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf