July 14, 2000

Emphatic victory for Sri Lanka in Singer final

The people of Manchester may not be entirely enthused by the idea of spending a cold English evening watching England and Zimbabwe, but the residents of Colombo simply adore day/night cricket, especially when their team is playing electrifying cricket. The thousands who poured into Premadasa International Stadium tonight were richly rewarded for their support, as Sri Lanka romped to a 30 run victory, amidst a cacophony of drumbeats and jubilant chanting.

They did so thanks to another thoroughly professional performance by Sri Lanka's youthful top order, who compiled an imposing 294 after Sanath Jayasuriya won the toss and elected to bat first. Like they have done throughout this tournament, they played with a maturity that belies their tender average age of just 25.

Indeed Sri Lanka have come a long way in the past 12 months. Last year they suffered an ignominious exit from the World Cup in England, failing to qualify even for the Super Sixes, despite having been the world champions in 1996. Since then, the selectors have put faith in the youngsters and the country has reaped the dividends: winning the Aiwa Cup against India and Australia, a one-day series against both Pakistan and Zimbabwe and reaching the final of the Sharjah Cup last October and the Asia Cup in March.

In this tournament Kumar Sangakkara and Avishka Gunawardena have both been a revelation. Unburdened by the painful baggage of the test series defeat by Pakistan, they have walked onto the big stage and played like old hands.

For four successive matches, Avishka Gunawardena, has ensured a flying start for Sri Lanka with a string of entertaining cameos, scoring 47 against Pakistan and 47, 83, and 49 against South Africa. By doing so he became the second highest run scorer in the tournament, 6 runs behind Gary Kirsten, who scored 236 from five innings.

Kumar Sangakkara has replaced the great Aravinda De Silva in the middle order, and done so with élan. Coming in at number five and invariably batting under pressure, he has averaged 66 in the tournament. Furthermore he has also shouldered the responsibility of keeping wicket and been highly impressive, taking three stumpings off Murali today.

South Africa lost this match in the first 15 overs, a period in which they conceded 98 runs. From that moment on their body language told of a team that had given up hope. The clapping of hands and words of encouraged being replaced by hands on hips and disgruntled gazes into the distance.

Avishka Gunwardena (49) and Sanath Jayasuriya (68) were always going to try and launch an assault in the opening overs, and it thus came as no surprise when the pair started carving the South African fast bowlers around the ground.

David Terbrugge bore the brunt of the onslaught. Man of the match in the last game, he did not have the luxury of early morning moisture in this. Suddenly his effective out-swingers became highly innocuous medium pacers, and he as thrashed for 38 runs in just 4 overs. In his defense he did appear unlucky to have a caught behind appeal turned down against Avishka in the early overs.

His captain may have faired little better, conceding 33 from five overs, but at least he had the vision to bring on Paul Adams in just the tenth over. It was a tactic that slowed the run rate considerably and induced the breakthrough. Lord knows what Sri Lanka would have scored in the first 15 if Adams hadn't come on.

Visibly uncomfortable against the turning ball, Avishka Gunawardena, once again failed just before reaching the half century mark, when he misread the length of the delivery, tried to force off the back foot and was clean bowled.

Marvan Attapattu (11) looked to have settled down to play one of those anchor roles for which he is so well suited, but uncharacteristically smeared the ball straight to Gary Kirsten at mid-wicket. Mahela Jayawardene (27) then consolidated with his captain, taking the score from 110-2 from 18.5 overs to 167-2 from30.2 overs, before lofting to long-off..

With Sanath Jayasuriya run-out soon after, the Sri Lanka innings could well have faltered. Less confident men that Kumar Sangakkara (43) and Russel Arnold (51) may well have tried to flail the ball too soon, and lost unnecessary wickets, but they calmly played themselves in, settled for regular singles, and only launched a full out assault in the last five overs.

Forced to chase 294 on a wicket that usually slows in pace and turns significantly towards the end the match, South Africa, desperately needed a quick start. Avoiding the temptation to promote Lance Klusner and keeping faith with an opening partnership that has been one of the few successes in this tournament, they started well, cruising to 86 without loss from the first 15 overs.

However runs were not so easy to come by when the spinners came into the attack and Sri Lanka used five of them in all. Mutiah Muralitharan, after a quiet tournament to date, was by far the most threatening and he strangled the South African's, taking 5-44 from his 10 overs. Sparingly used by his captain he bowled four spells in total, claiming ending the 91 run opening stand in his first. Andrew Hall (35) betraying his inexperience by indulging in an expansive cover drive, and like so many before him, completely missed and was clean bowled.

From that moment on the South African innings slipped slowly behind the required pace. Gary Kirsten (76) played valiantly but after a flurry of boundaries in the early overs could not sustain the required run rate. Jacques Kallis (7) was controversially run-out after Dharmsena appeared to have dislodged a bail whilst gathering a diving underarm flick. Neil McKenzie (10) was adjudged LBW whilst trying to sweep the leg-spin of Upul Chandana and Nico Boje was stumped in the thirtieth over by Sangakkara off Muralithran to leave South Africa 142-5.

Jonty Rhodes (43) played a typically effervescent innings, that included a number of highly effective reverse pull sweeps, some of which were nearly sixes, but disaster struck in the 34th over when Gary Kirsten as stumped off Murali. Two overs later Mark Boucher (1) was also marching back to the dressing room having been adjudged LBW.

South Africa's hopes now rested in the experienced hands of Lance Klusner (39) and Jonty Rhodes, they tried manfully but the requirement of 96 from the last 10 overs proved too much.

Jonty Rhodes was extremely unlucky to be adjudged LBW whilst trying another reverse sweep; B.C. Cooray clearly not a personal fan of the shot. Lance Klusner struck a couple of ominous blows, including one enormous six, and must have induced some flutters of apprehension in the Sri Lankan dressing room, but he became the third batsmen to be stumped off Muralitharan.

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