April 14, 2002

Lankans sail into the Sharjah Cup final

SHARJAH--Sri Lanka notched another win, their third out of four in this event, to be the first to make it to the final of this Sharjah Cup 2002, leaving Pakistan and New Zealand to slug it out for the other berth today. And, with both having a win apiece under their belt, the game is indeed a knock-out: the winner lives to fight for the title, and the loser goes home. In case it is New Zealand, they cross over the Persian Gulf to Pakistan for their rescheduled one-day and Test rubber, in that order.

Having set them 244 for victory, Sri Lanka allowed New Zealand only 197 for nine wickets, winning the fixture comfortably by 46 runs. The Lankans were keen to win this tie so that their qualifying for the final did not linger unduly for another day. Sharp in bowling and even sharper in the field, once they had reduced the Black Caps to 38 for three were not willing to give anything away. They had wrested control, more than that, a vise-like hold, and they were in no mood to concede an inch. Only Kumar Sangakkara, keeping wickets missed a stumping and a run-out, but even those reprieves fell in the realm of too little to save the day for the Kiwis.

As the game entered the home stretch, the final 10 overs, the Kiwis were 93 runs adrift, the asking rate 9.3, and Jacob Oram, who had already hit Kumar Dharmasena for a straight six, and James Franklin were on the crease. It really was beyond them to plunder the runs at this rate against an attack that is very good at prising out better-endowed opposition. Oram clouted Dharmasena over long on but the bowler had his revenge next ball by having him stumped. Franklin and Tuffey fooled around for a while, but Arnold bowled the latter and Franklin stayed on with Butler to save the ignominy of getting all-out.

From the word go, the Kiwis really made a mess of their chase, and were reduced to 38 for three. Chaminda Vaas struck first ball, to have Mathew Horne so plumb in front that umpire Venkatraghavan had his finger up as soon as the bowler turned around to raise his hands in appeal.

Out of sorts, Nathan Astle (14, 26 balls, 2 fours) made his best score of this tournament so far before Vaas had him brilliantly caught and bowled. The disaster was compounded when Nuwan Zoysa's appeal for leg before against Chris Harris was upheld.

The most seasoned Black Caps pair, Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan found the going tough. McMillan took a boundary apiece from Kumar Dharmasena and Upul Chandana. But to make an already near irretrievable situation worse, Fleming got himself bowled round his legs off Dharmasena.

Muralitharan was finally brought into the attack as late as the 25th over. He conceded one and two in the first and second overs of his spell, but as Mathew Sinclair and Fleming went after him.

He conceded 11 in his third, the 29th over, which also saw Black Caps raise the 100 of their innings, 101 off 179 deliveries.

Next over, the 30th, McMillan clouted Jayasuriya for a glorious six straight on to the sight screen first ball to take another 10 runs from the over. And Jayasuriya's next over too went for 11 runs, as McMillan contemptuously thumped him to the long-on fence and then guided him to deep fine leg for another boundary.

The Kiwi innings seemed to be gaining a fluency of sorts, but it was too good to last. In Muralitharan's next over, two wickets fell to make any hopes of revival a remote possibility. Sinclair, who had made 56 for the fifth wicket with McMillan, was run out courtesy a ferocious throw by Jayasuriya and Styris was leg before Muralitharan.

McMillan was snared into a false shot by Muralitharan and with Atapattu making no mistake, at 138 for seven, the writing was on the wall for the Kiwis.

Earlier, the fact that the Lankans managed just 243 after being rather well placed at 155 two in the 30th over was a tribute to the Black Caps resilience in the field and some imaginative captaincy.

Having lost skipper Sanath Jayasuriya, leg before to Daryl Tuffey third ball after winning the toss and electing to bat first, Sri Lanka recovered quite considerably, as Marvan Atapattu (82, 94 deliveries, 12 fours) and Kumar Sangakkara (50, 64 balls, 5 fours, 1 six) made 114 runs.

It was Atapattu who took the fight to the Kiwis, by stroking the ball sweetly for fours, mostly in front of the wicket, mostly straight as an arrow in copybook fashion. Sangakkara, having started with a six off James Franklin settled down to play second fiddle to Atapattu, until late in the innings when he raced to his 50 with three fours in as many overs on the off side, only to get out immediately after reaching his fifty.

Atapattu, who scored his third score of 50-plus on the trot, and Mahela Jayawardene continued scoring in singles and twos, until they tore into Franklin, hitting him for two boundaries apiece to gather 18 runs off the over. At this point things seemed to be getting out of hand, when seamer Ian Butler struck twice, removing Atapattu and Arnold in the same over. Harris delivered another blow, by getting Tillekeratne Dilshan caught at the wicket by Sinclair.

Three wickets in the space of 20 deliveries for the addition of 12 runs was a collapse from which the Lankans recovered but never fully.

Jayawardene (39 runs, 55 balls, 3 fours) soldiered on in association with Upul Chandana (21, 36 balls, 1 four), but another three wickets fell in a bunch. Harris claimed Jayawardene's wicket, and from 5 for 196, the Lankans again plunged to 208 for eight within the space of 21 balls.

Chaminda Vaas, dropped at one by Sinclair off Jacob Oram, scored a run a ball 20 with the help of one four to rally the tail around him and take the total to a respectable 243.