April 6, 2003

Sri Lanka gain revenge for Kenyan World Cup shock

Another beautifully-paced century from Kumar Sangakkara - his second in succession, making him the 35th batsman to achieve the feat - inspired Sri Lanka to an emphatic 129-run victory over Kenya at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Sri Lanka made 256 for 5, having won the toss, and then bowled Kenya out for 127 to exact some measure of revenge for an embarrassing defeat in Nairobi during the World Cup.

After some helter-skelter hitting early on, Sri Lanka's innings had fallen into a mid-innings trough and it took a 93-run partnership between Sangakkara and Hashan Tillekeratne to inject some urgency into proceedings. Kumar Dharmasena also used strong-arm tactics to great effect in Thomas Odoyo's final over, spoiling what had been an excellent spell till then.

Sangakkara used his feet well and was especially strong off his pads, working the ball through and over midwicket and also cutting and driving with tremendous power when the bowlers erred. He indulged in the by-now-customary verbals - with Kennedy Otieno - and was given a life but that apart, it was an exceptional innings that ended with a superb straight drive for four.

Tillekeratne's gritty 43 was the perfect foil, until Maurice Odumbe pulled off another superb catch at short midwicket off Collins Obuya's bowling (191 for 4). For Kenya, both Odoyo and Obuya were outstanding, but the inconsistent support cast and generous umpiring from Umpire Barbour - who turned down the vociferous appeal for caught behind off Steve Tikolo, when Sangakkara had made just 44 - saw 133 runs coming from the last 20 overs.

Kenya more than held their own for long periods under the desert sun, perhaps determined to prove that their World Cup win over Sri Lanka in Nairobi was no fluke. They were aided by a sluggish pitch and slow bowling - which, combined with some undistinguished batting - restricted Sri Lanka until Sangakkara got into the groove.

Sri Lanka started sedately, with plenty of swing-and-a-miss to their batting until Alfred Luseno's wayward line and length was punished to the tune of 14 runs in his fourth over. At the other end, Odoyo gave nothing away, bowling his seven overs for 16 runs and picking up the wicket of Avishka Gunawardene. Gunawardene hadn't looked very convincing during his 38-ball effort and an airy waft outside the offstump, easily gathered by Otieno behind the stumps, saw him on his way for 24 (53 for 1).

The ball wasn't coming on to the bat and a couple of ungainly heaves were ample evidence of Jayasuriya's frustration, though three runs to extra-cover that took him to seven saw him reach 9,000 runs in one-day internationals. When Tony Suji came on, his third delivery was thumped to the backward square leg fence. Next ball though, he was on his way, given out leg before by Umpire Jayaprakash even though the ball clearly pitched outside legstump (64 for 2).

Marvan Atapattu and Sangakkara struggled to force the pace in unhelpful conditions, especially once Obuya came on to bowl his ripping legbreaks. They added 34 at four an over before Atapattu's hesitant lofted-drive off Collins was superbly taken one-handed by Odumbe at cover (98 for 3).

That left Sangakkara, who finished with an unbeaten 100 against Pakistan, to rebuild the innings with Tillakeratne, and the final result of their toil was well beyond Kenya. On a day when Oxford and Cambridge contested the closest boat-race in the 149-year history of the event, Kenya were never at the races.

Prabath Nissanka ripped through the top order before the debutant, Kaushal Lokuarachchi, removed Tikolo to leave them tottering at 36 for 4. Odumbe and Odoyo salvaged some pride, with Odumbe compiling an attractive 42, but they were never within sniffing distance of the asking rate.

The run chase started disastrously, with David Obuya edging Nissanka to Tillekeratne, and it got worse when Otieno tickled one through to the keeper off Charitha Buddhika (8 for 2).

Brijal Patel didn't stick around long either, taking the caught Tillekeratne, bowled Nissanka route back to the pavilion. But the key wicket was that of Tikolo. Lokuarachchi's first ball in international cricket was begging to be smashed away, and Tikolo duly did, but straight to Gunawardena at short cover. Odumbe and Odoyo took the score to 97 but once Dharmasena trapped Odoyo leg before, the end was night. Jayasuriya accounted for Odumbe and Hitesh Modi, leaving Muttiah Muralitharan to mop up the tail. Kenya may be good at defending totals, but they have a way to go in the chasing game. This was a rout.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden.com in India.