Gunawardene stars at Dambulla
Sri Lanka 239 (Gunawardene 73, Khuram 4-32) bt UAE 123 (Rai 39, Chandana 4-22, Muralitharan 3-21) by 116 runs
It was a rout, but it need not have been. The United Arab Emirates bowled with a maturity far beyond their experience to take regular wickets after Sri Lanka chose to bat first, but the one man they couldn't stop was Avishka Gunawardene, whose fine 73 helped Sri Lanka to 239. That was enough for the win, and UAE's batsmen were easily dismissed for 123 in 47.5 overs.
Gunawardene came in to bat in the eighth over of the day, and was aggressive right from the start - but not in an irresponsible manner, as he sometimes has been in the past. He was severe on anything pitched outside off, and repeatedly pumped Syed Maqsood and Ali Asad through the off side, favouring the region between mid-off and cover. He batted at a run-a-ball pace for the first half of his innings, but played more watchfully in the middle overs, when the spinners bowled with some guile and a lot of discipline. Wickets fell around him as he stood firm, until he finally decided that the time had come to seize the momentum, and hoicked Khuram Khan to deep midwicket, where Sameer Zia took a beautifully judged diving catch. Sri Lanka were 190 for 7 then, well out of trouble.
Many of the Sri Lankan batsmen spent time at the crease, settled in well, but could not capitalise on their effort. Saman Jayantha (18), Sanath Jayasuriya (21), Kumar Sangakkara (17), Mahela Jayawardene (26) and Upul Chandana (21) all promised, and deceived. Sangakkara could at least complain that he was at the wrong end of a bad umpiring decision, but the others had no-one but themselves to blame.
Jayawardene, captaining in place of Marvan Atapattu, who decided to skip this game along with Chaminda Vaas, began the day by winning the toss and choosing to bat. Asad was impressive at the start of the innings, as he had been yesterday. Asim Saeed, the left-armer, also seemed to be getting into his rhythm when Peter Parker, the umpire, not Spiderman, got into his way. Saeed, while beginning his third over, brushed against Parker's shoulder and, unable to keep his balance, fell over, clearly spraining a muscle somewhere as a result. He was assisted off the field, and when he did bat later in the day, needed a runner.
Maqsood came on to bowl in Saeed's place, and struck early, getting a ball to pitch outside off and nip back in to hit the off stump of Jayantha, who played inside the line (39 for 1). Shortly afterwards, Jayasuriya was trapped lbw to a ball from Asad that pitched on middle and straightened (41 for 2).
Sangakkara then added 64 with Gunawardene, but his confident innings came to an end when he was the victim of a shocking decision, adjudged lbw to a ball from Zia that pitched well outside leg stump (105 for 3). Jayawardene began with a lovely late cut, and hit a run-a-ball 26, an innings of class and finesse, before he was run out following a mix-up (143 for 4).
The spinners dominated the next ten overs. First, Khuram bowled Dilshan Tillekeratne (6) with a lovely ball that pitched just outside off and snaked past Dilshan's outside edge to kiss the off stump (151 for 5). Then, Thilina Kandamby (4) chipped Khuram to Maqsood at midwicket (161 for 6). The weight on Gunawardene's shoulders got heavier with each wicket, until he too was out, with Sri Lanka in sight of 200.
Chandana played a sprightly cameo, but was bowled trying to slog Asad (214 for 8). Nuwan Zoysa, with 21, played a useful innings at the end, but holed out off the last ball of the innings - which made this the first time in an ODI that UAE had bowled a side out. Khuram ended with 4 for 32, and showed that given the opportunity, UAE's bowlers could shine on the world stage.
But not so their batsmen. Zoysa got the early wickets of Arshad Ali and Fahad Usman, after which a battle began - not between the two sides, though, but between Sri Lanka and the weather. Apparently thinking that it might rain, Jayawardene brought his spinners on from the eighth over in order to finish 25 overs quickly, so the game could not be rained out. The batsmen did not try to delay them much by taking a lot of runs, playing with the circumspection of Geoff Boycott on sedatives.
Ramveer Rai was the top-scorer of the innings, with a dour 39, off 124 balls - he was going at a strike-rate of 10 at one point, with 5 off his first 50. Preparing, no doubt, for the harsh environs of Test cricket, Rai defended stoutly, as wickets fell around him. It took a jaffa to get him out, an unplayable ball from Chandana that pitched outside leg and spun back to hit off - much like that famous Warne-Gatting collaboration. He was the eighth man out, with the score on 99, and although UAE did reach three figures, they could not achieve their pre-match objective of surviving 50 overs. But Sri Lanka didn't keep all their wickets intact either, and that should be enough cause for cheer for UAE, who now catch a long flight home.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.