Sangakkara savours stunning comeback
Kumar Sangakkara is not a man to indulge in hyperbole, but even he rated Sri Lanka's miraculous comeback win at the MCG as one of the two best victories in his 277-game career. Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga somehow rescued their side from 8 for 107 chasing 240, and in the process rewrote a ninth-wicket partnership record that had stood since the 1983 World Cup.
That they achieved the feat against the No. 1-ranked side, and in Australia, was even more impressive. After the match, Sangakkara was reluctant to put the triumph categorically at the top of the team's achievements, but he was full of praise for the way Mathews and Malinga resurrected what looked like becoming a miserable failure.
"It's the second-most remarkable, I think, or at least one of two, because we were five wickets down for six runs against Bangladesh in a final and managed to get home in that with Murali hitting 33 off 15. But Bangladesh is one thing and the Australians are another, so this is incredible.
"There's nothing much you can think [at 8 for 107] - you just hope. And the way Angelo batted, I thought he showed immense maturity. He's coming off a tough couple of months with the bat, he's had an injury so he can't bowl, but I think he just repaid our trust many times over with the way he batted. And Lasith Malinga did the hard yards in the bowling part and then managed to go out there and again contribute fantastically to the win."
Australia looked headed for certain victory when the debutant Xavier Doherty ran through the top order and by the time Malinga joined Mathews, a home win seemed only moments away. Immediately, they took the batting Powerplay, hoping to manufacture something out of nothing, and the gamble quickly began to pay off.
They picked off 45 runs in during the fielding restrictions and gradually the momentum shifted. Malinga used his brute force to plant a few sixes into the stands and sow some doubts in the mind of Michael Clarke, while Mathews worked the ball around at the other end, conscious that time was not Sri Lanka's enemy. Slowly they started to think of victory, which had not been on their agenda when the partnership began.
"We never thought of winning the game from there," Mathews said. "We just wanted to bat on and see how we go. We just took the Powerplay and it worked for us, we got some runs and the game got closer. When we got close to 200 we thought that we could do it, because we had a big partnership and Lasith was batting extremely well, he was hitting big sixes and it was so easy for me to knock it around and play freely."
It looked easy, too. Neither man gave a genuine chance until the scores were already tied, when Malinga was run out attempting a winning single. It prompted groans from the 19,000-strong crowd, which was dominated by Sri Lankan fans, while many of the Australians who would normally turn up stayed away, having already had a day off work for Tuesday's Melbourne Cup public holiday.
"Melbourne is the best place for us to come and play, it's like playing at home," Sangakkara said. "Today I think there were many more Sri Lankans than Australians to watch the game, so it's incredible to play here. Sydney is also great. Australia has been a great place to come to, but we haven't won enough here, so it's good to get off to a win."
However, as wondrous as the one-wicket victory was for the visitors, Sangakkara knows that much work remains if Sri Lanka are to win a series in Australia for the first time. They head to Sydney with an opportunity to secure the series on Friday, but barely half an hour after the players streamed on to the field to celebrate the victory, Sangakkara was already warning his men that they had to lift their game.
"This is an incredible but very lucky win," he said. "I thought we fielded quite poorly today. We bowled very well to restrict them, I though the Powerplay overs were fantastic. Thisara Perera again, he seems to be able to pick up five-fors and wickets in one-dayers when you don't think that he can. We made some very poor decisions in our batting especially, when Doherty came on, and we made it really hard for ourselves. There are a lot of things to work on."
The batting of Mathews and Malinga is not one of them.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at Cricinfo