Friday the 13th saw Sri Lanka and New Zealand do battle at the Rangiri Dambulu Stadium and remarkably both teams had played three games each on Friday that happened to be the 13th and never won anything of those games up to then.
Malinga opened the door for the Lankans initially
As for Sri Lanka all games were played outside the country and when the two teams lined up to play each other for the first time on the 13th of August which was a Friday there was excitement amongst particularly the statisticians who had all the information pertaining to such important aspects. The Ten Sports stats guru Mohandas Menon who must be probably one of the finest in the trade was willing to predict that the game on Friday the 13th could end up being a tie. It was with that back drop and excitement that most of us looked forward to the 2nd game of the tri-series.
For starters New Zealand had surprised India with an absolutely polished performance by registering a win by 200 runs and with it obtained the all important bonus point. In that game the Kiwi grit was evident. First when they were 3 for 28 the Captain Taylor and Styris added 190 runs to get them back on rail and when India batted the tall pace attack comprising Tuffy, Mills, Mackay and Oram extracted bounce and movement to trouble the free scoring Indian batsmen.Besides the Kiwi fast bowlers should be commended for the tight line they bowled with a hardly a ball outside the line of attack.
With such a wonderful performance behind them one would have expected the Kiwi’s to match the home team and when Ross Taylor won the toss the stage was set for an enthralling encounter. But how wrong were our expectations! True the result was only a three wicket win but the dominance of the Sri Lankan’s was far greater. For starters Sri Lanka should have never lost so many wickets. At least the 2 wickets of Kulasekera and Hearth to me were uncalled for and were gifted when the chase was on to get to the target within 40 overs and claim the bonus point.
There could be an argument that both Kulasekera and Herath were sent with the idea of quick scoring with Kapugedara held back as a possible insurance if something went wrong. However I beg to differ on the matter as had the free scoring Kapugedera come in, even if he utilized an over to settle in, he had the capacity to score runs quickly with his big hits. And don’t forget Kapugedara is in the team purely as a batsman and in fairness he could be considered as the hardest hitter in the Sri Lankan side and somebody capable of pushing the rate of scoring up. Had he been dismissed batting at no 7 the Lankan’s had enough batting strength which extends down to the last man Mendis to overhaul the target from where they were. In any event Samaraweera who was batting so well could have easily controlled the game as he was definitely the key and Sri Lanka could have never lost that game and would not be worth their salt if from 5/164 they didn’t convert it to a win.
Back to the Kiwi innings! Almost everybody present was aware that the toss was vital and after the Kiwis won the toss the expectations was a score of around 240 to 250. However the Sri Lankan bowling spearheaded by Lasith Malinga was outstanding on the day. Skipper Sangakkara did use Malinga in short spells and that ensured his body didn’t over work and also kept him reasonably fresh every time he was given the ball. His variations which included really quick bouncers as well as yorkers with slower balls, completely outdid the Kiwi Batsmen who actually succumbed to the pressure he created. The other quality spell of bowling came from the under bowled and under rated Angelo Mathews.
Bowling well within himself with the occasional effort ball Mathews wickets were captured due to his remarkable accuracy. With both Taylor and Watling looking to work the inswinger on the leg side Mathews trapping of Taylor was a huge dent to the Kiwis who steadily lost wickets to him there after which put astray their plans to reach the all important two hundred and fifty mark.
When the Sri Lankan reply commenced and with the early dismissal of Dilshan, it was most heartening to witness Upul Tharanga rising to the occasion. Since his return to the ODI side Tharanga has been extremely consistent and his innings on Friday was a fine example of setting about building an innings. At the initial stages he did allow skipper Sangakkara to dominate and then after his dismissal he did take charge of things before he was dismissed caught in the deep going after the bonus point.
Looking back at the game the Sri Lankans should consider their win as satisfying and will serve as an impetus for the team to move forward in the series. As for the Kiwis they do have to return to the drawing board as after looking a strong outfit in the first game their cracks were exposed by the Sri Lankans in the second. They will definitely be expected to take a closer look at Kane Williamson the highly rated twenty year old and may replace him with the more experienced Elliot and also hope that the injury plagued all rounder Jacob Oram will stay fit for the rest of the series at least. New Zealand may also be tempted to play Jeetan Patel at the expense of Andy Mackay to ensure they strike the right balance as a quality spinner is an essential part of any team, and Patel is one of the few good spinners available to the Kiws in the absence of skipper Vettori.
With the Cricket World Cup in the subcontinent during early next year all three teams would want to waste no time in sorting their respective combinations and hence it wont be a surprise to see the tournament hotting up as it unfolds.
* Roshan Abeysinghe is a leading cricket promoter and an international cricket commentator