Hambantota: Cricket, and not any showy opening ceremony, takes centre stage as the ICC World Twenty20 2012 kicks off in Hambantota on Tuesday with the tournament favourites and hosts Sri Lanka squaring off against the rusty minnows Zimbabwe.
A three-team group doesn't offer you any chance to warm up. All the loosening up is left to the pre-tournament practice matches, where Zimbabwe were thumped by fellow minnows Ireland (by 54 runs) and Bangladesh (by 5 wickets). A clear indication that almost eight months of no cricket has had its toll on them - with both coordination and skill gathering rust.
Sri Lanka blew hot and cold in warm-up. After soundly beating West Indies by 9 wickets, Mahela Jayawardene's men were outplayed by former T20 champions India by 26 runs.
However, a favourites vs minnows match is fraught with danger for the former as the latter has nothing to lose. With just two group matches to play, a slip-up against the weaker team can prove disastrous - in this case for Sri Lanka, who will next play red hot South Africa.
The home fans might see Tillakaratne Dilshan walking out to open batting with Dilshan Munaweera and the 18-year-old Akila Dananjaya sharing spin-bowling duties with Ajantha Mendis - offering both Munaweera and Dananjaya their international debuts. That means Jayawardene may bat at No. 3, followed by a solid middle order. The fast bowling department will, of course, be led by limited-overs specialist Lasith Malinga.
Zimbabwe may go into the match banking on experience than youthful flair. Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda and Brendan Taylor offer quality at the top, but the middle order doesn't have much to offer. Considering that, Craig Ervine and Stuart Matsikenyeri's experience should keep them in the eleven. So the only choice Taylor may have to make is on the allrounder - between Elton Chigumbura and Malcolm Waller.
Prosper Utseya, Graeme Cremer and Ray Price are there to spin the bowl for Zimbabwe, but Taylor doesn't expect much turn out of the Hambantota track. That means one of the three tweakers - most probably Cremer - will miss out.
Talking about pressure, the hosts will feel it more than the visitors as an upset win for Zimbabwe can shut the door on Sri Lanka as early as the first day of the tournament.
Sri Lanka: 1 Dilshan Munaweera, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Mahela Jayawardene (c), 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Nuwan Kulasekara, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Ajantha Mendis 11 Akila Dananjaya
Zimbabwe: 1 Hamilton Masakadza, 2 Vusi Sibanda, 3 Brendan Taylor (c/wk)), 4 Craig Ervine, 5 Stuart Matsikenyeri, 6 Elton Chigumbura/Malcolm Waller, 7 Prosper Utseya 8 Ray Price, 9 Richard Muzhange, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu