Top-ranked South Africa take on Pakistan and India clash with Australia in a sold-out double-header at the Premadasa stadium in Colombo to launch the opening skirmishes in group two.
All four teams showed their prowess by winning both matches in the preliminary league and now face a fight to finish to book two semi-final spots from the group.
“It is a tough group,” South African captain AB de Villiers said on Thursday. “Any of the sides can beat each other on any given day, so it is going to be a great challenge.
“But if we play good cricket, we will be difficult to stop. We have prepared well for this tournament, to the extent that we are ready for even the Super Over if that becomes necessary.
The Super Over — where teams scoring more runs in six balls from an opposition bowler win — comes into play if a match is tied.
The South African captain’s main worry ahead of Friday’s clash against Pakistan was how his team will cope against prolific off-spinner Saeed Ajmal.
Asked if his batsmen had been able to understand Ajmal’s action, de Villiers said: “Not really but there are not many batsmen who can read Ajmal.
“We have studied him closely and analysed his action. The important thing will be to watch the ball closely.”
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni agreed the real battle in the tournament will begin with the Super Eights.
“We have enjoyed the tournament but the importance of the matches ahead multiplies,” said Dhoni, whose team faces Pakistan on Sunday and South Africa next Tuesday.
“You can’t afford to have a bad day really.”
Pakistan skipper Mohammad Hafeez insisted his team was not even thinking about the game against India, the first T20 international between the arch-rivals since the 2007 World Twenty20 final.
“We take it match by match,” said Hafeez. “Our immediate focus is on how we are going to tackle a strong side like South Africa. We will think about the others later.”
Hafeez said Pakistan’s game plan revolved around spinners Shahid Afridi and Ajmal, saying the duo were capable of restricting the best batting line-ups.
Australia’s trump card, according to skipper George Bailey, was their top all-rounder Shane Watson, who was man of the match in both the preliminary matches.
Watson, who opens both the batting and bowling, hit 51 and took 3-26 against Ireland and then made 41 not out and claimed 2-29 in the second game against the West Indies.
“He plays such a key role, and he is so versatile that he would be one of the most feared players in the competition,” Bailey said of Watson. “His power is second to none but he just does not go out there and blast from ball one.
“And in terms of his bowling, he has set a really good example for some of our younger guys.”
Bailey conceded it was an open group but remained confident his team was capable of winning the one major title that has eluded Australia.
The other group, which comprises defending champions England, New Zealand, the West Indies and hosts Sri Lanka, open their Super Eights round later on Thursday.
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