The cruel and ruthless nature of the first round of T20 World Cups will be on display in the first match of the final day of Group A fixtures in Geelong.
Netherlands lead the table with two wins from their first two matches, but they enter the day in a vulnerable position because they haven’t won comfortably enough. As a result, their net run-rate is the lowest among the three realistic contenders. So they are in a must-win situation because if they lose, they end up with prayers that Namibia lose to UAE later in the night.
However, these sudden-death scenarios are not new for Netherlands and the other teams who have to go through the qualifiers just to get here. “I think everyone knows these are pressure games in this tournament,” Netherlands coach Ryan Cook said. “Just to get to this point, in the World Cup qualifiers, you often have this kind of games as well. So we are fully prepared to being in these kinds of knockout games.
“And then, obviously, we know we have to play against good teams in this competition, who all have various threats. We prepare for all those eventualities. In terms of meeting those challenges, the guys are in a good space to do that.”
Mathematically, the probability at the qualifiers was even lower, because only two teams made it out of a pool of eight. Netherlands won all four of their first four matches to make the cut. Here, they find themselves needing to win all three, the third against Sri Lanka. It will help that they have in their coaching staff men who know Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theekshana well.
“Dan Christian is part of our coaching staff. He has played with Hasaranga [at Royal Challengers Bangalore]. [Consultant] Gary Kirsten coaches at the IPL, and he has obviously had to put together plans to deal with these spinners in the IPL space as well,” Cook said. “So we have got a bit of inside information in terms of that and guys that have faced them and those who have planned against them previously for other teams.”
For Sri Lanka, the current Asia Cup champions and former T20 world champions, they are not exactly used to sudden deaths so early, and they have teams they don’t know too much about.
“Coming into this series, we know what exactly to expect [in terms of format],” their captain Dasun Shanaka said. “[But] rather than playing well-known countries, it is somewhat different playing against these nations. We don’t know what exactly comes at us. Normally, when you play against the Test-playing nations, we know the bowlers and combinations they play. There are advantages and disadvantages both when we play this kind of rounds.”
It will be heartbreak for Netherlands to lose out on net run-rate after having won six out of their eight matches put together in the qualifiers and the first round. They inflicted this exact heartbreak on Zimbabwe and Ireland in 2014 by going through on net run-rate. It will be heartbreak for Sri Lanka’s big fanbase in Melbourne who have been turning up in Geelong with the Papare band to put you in mind of Colombo. Not to mention that they can do with every bit of joy their cricket team can bring them in what has been a tough year for the country. Heartbreaks is the only guarantee. The first round of these T20 World Cups is dirty business.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo