Durban hoodoo haunts S. Africa

By Aubrey Kuruppu

It was the year of the World Cup and naturally in the lead up to the prestigious quadrennial event, test cricket was given short shrift. Sri Lanka, one of the front-runners for the Cup, rolled over the minnows Canada and Kenya. The Australian game was the crucial engagement but, alas, rain midway in the Sri Lankan innings meant the points were shared. Skipper Sangakkara’s polished unbeaten knock in the seventies ensured a competitive total was forthcoming. However, with the attack loaded with spinners and a turning track, one felt the Aussies would have been up against it.

Sri Lanka celebrates taking the wicket of South Africa's Jacques Kallis (not pictured) during the second day of their second cricket test match in Durban December 27, 2011. REUTERS

Pakistan has always been loaded with talent and, in consequence, they have been a dangerous, though unpredictable, side. On this occasion, a stellar performance by skipper Afridi saw his team beat the hosts in a close game.

Lost ground had to be regained, and hundreds by Dilshan and Tharanga in a massive 300, opening stand did just that. Brendon Taylor did his bit for Zimbabwe but the asking rate was too big for his colleagues to mount a serious challenge.

New Zealand, generally a good one day side, has in recent times found Murali and the Sri Lankans too hot to handle. A defeat of the Kiwis duly followed, Sri Lanka had entered the quarter-finals and had a home game against the number one test team in the world.

Strauss’ team made 228 and this was not par for the course. The Dilshan-Tharanga show took centre stage as the Englishmen were whipped by ten wickets in what seemed a mismatch of horrendous proportions.

A semi-final against New Zealand in India was next up. The Sri Lankans were playing good cricket, their confidence was at a high and given their opponent’s recent dismal record against them, odds were on Sri Lanka’s entry into the final. So it proved.

The country was caught up in a cricket fever and everyone from the highest in the land to the lowest, had only the final on their mind. A master-class hundred from the elegant Jayawardena and some significant contributions down the order helped Sri Lanka to a challenging total of 275. This should, under normal circumstances, have been enough to sneak home. But they were up against the most formidable batting line up in the shorter version as well as the longer one.

LEFT: Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara with the World Cup.

Malinga blasted out Sehwag and Tendulkar. But Gambhir stood fast and Dhoni, promoting himself in a shrewd, bold move, turned the innings around. Gambhir was unable to join the select few pf Lloyd, Richards, Aravinda et al. Yuvraj in tandem with Dhoni killed off Sri Lanka’s chances. Sangakkar’s dream was not to be and, for the second successive World Cup, Sri Lanka finished runner-up.
The introduction of the four new players for the final, one of them rushed from Colombo, raised eye brows. Vaas was available, at hand and he may have fitted the scales. Subsequent events – the resignation of the captain within days, and that of the selectors en masse, were staggering.

And so to the real thing. Staggered, late arrivals meant that the Sri Lankans were not quite ready for the opening test at the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. Despite all that a century from Prasanna Jayawardena and fifties from Paranavithana, Dilshan and Samaraweera saw Sri Lanka reach 400. Then came a double ton to Trott and singles to Cook and Bell. Then followed 24.4 overs of madness as the visitors were destroyed for a mere 82, to lose by an innings and 14 runs. Tremlett and Swann (four) each and Broad (two) combined in a swift, sudden and decisive assault. Dilshan’s monumental 193 at Lords made certain that his team did not fall too far behind England on the first innings (486 and 479).England’s top order then enjoyed themselves and a token declaration saw the Sri Lankans finish on 127 for 3 chasing 343.

184 at the Rose Bowl was totally inadequate. Yet, England restricted to 377 for 8, could not find a way past the broad bats of Sangakkara 119 (his first hundred in England) and Samarawera 87 not out. A 0-1 series loss to England was not all that good, but better than what was feared.

Came the Australian tour of Sri Lanka and the hosts, with their Big Four, were expected to lord it over a rather inexperienced team. The Aussies were kept under three hundred in both innings at Galle, but the ghost of Cardiff revisited and the local team was skittled out for 105. A Jayawardena hundred and a total of 253 meant that the Aussies were home by 125 runs.

The Sri Lankans played catch-up cricket for most of the second test at Pallekelle – 237 behind after the first innings, half centuries from Paranavithana, Sangakkara and Jayawardena ensured a draw.
A maiden century from Mathews at the SSC paved the way for Sri Lanka to lead by 157 runs after the first innings. Yet that window of opportunity was shut as Hughes and Clarke made hundreds. Herath had a test best of 7 for 157,but the under-rated Aussies took the series 1-0. Pakistan in Abu Dhabi and another collapse; all out 197. Umar’s 236 guided the home team to 511 for 6, before the lesser known Jayawardena’s 120 and the stand-fast Sangakkara’s eighth double hundred shut the door on Pakistan’s chances.

In the second test at Dubai, Sri Lanka 239 and 257 did not do enough to deny Pakistan who made 403 and 941 for one. One up to Pakistan. Dilshan (92) and Sangakkara (who else?) 144 saw their team to 413 and a lead of 73 on first innings.Welagedera enjoyed his first 5 wickets. Sri Lanka set their opponents a target of 255 and Misbah (9 in 86 balls) and Shafiq (7 for 55) combined dogged defence and unrelenting concentration to stall Sri Lanka and take the series 1-0. This meant that Sri Lanka had the last three series by a 1-0 margin.

As for the one dayers, there too Dilshan’s men came of second best against the teams led by Cook, Clarke and Misbah. Coming to the current tour, Sri Lanka were given the tag of no hopers. Wessels, a former skipper, teased the visitors by saying their ‘A’ team would be good enough for the job. The opening test at Centurion proved his point as the Sri Lankans caved in for totals of 180 and 150 and lost by an innings and 81, before tea on day three.

Durban holds ghastly memories for the Springboks and at the time of writing, the hoodoo seems to have stuck. A Samaraweera century and his second five wickets haul by Welagedera produced a lead of 170 on the first innings. Sangakkara (108), Samaraweera (43) and debutant Chandimal’s second fifty of the match have, at the end of day three, had given beleaguered Dilshan’s team a lead of over 400. Save for the glorious uncertainties, Sri Lanka should pull this off and register their first test triumph on South African soil.

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