April 17, 2001

Sharjah Diary: Kiwis make Lankans eat humble pie

SHARJAH - When the Kiwis walked into the ground for their last match of this double round robin league, they knew that their chances of progressing to the final of this ARY Gold Cup, scheduled for next Friday, were absolutely non-existent. So hopeless was their situation that a win alone would not have been enough to help them survive. Their net run-rate was so low that even a most improbable victory, bowling out the Lankans inside 86 runs, could only have done the trick for them!

Quite understandably, skipper Craig McMillan had talked of making an impression. Indeed, the most they could have done was bow out with grace, by going down fighting. The Black Caps did even better: they made the Lankans eat humble pie, and that too by an emphatic 79 runs.

And what a terrific display it was, their cavalier effort landing them a consolation win, and this second string Kiwis would not at least be going back home empty-handed. It really was the Kiwis' will which destroyed the might of the Lankans, the only full strength side in this three-nation event!

First it was Mathew Sinclair (118) who held the side together with yet another magnificent effort, carrying the bat with a second hundred under his belt, to guide his team to 248. Sinclair's batting exploits won him the ARY Man of the Match award. And then pacer Kyle Mills was all fired up to have a say on the proceedings. He did that, with three top of the order wickets, reducing the Lankans to 37 for three. And then just as there was a hint of their getting going again, Mills, having bowled an extended spell, brought off an absolute stunner of a catch right on the long-on fence to send back an absolutely nonplussed Indika de Saram.

Five for 78 in the 22nd over, and the going was uphill for the Lankans. It became even steeper once Sangakkara, Arnold and Jaywardene were sent back one after the other. At 97 for 7, with 30 overs gone, the tail in and the asking rate having climbed up to 7.6, the Lankans had only as much hope of coming out of the encounter unscathed as a snowball in hell.

The Kiwi innings:
Call it a measure of confidence, or may be a desire to practice a chase in view of the forthcoming final, Jayasuriya won the toss and elected to field first. He was rewarded first ball, as Chris Nevin, the hard-hitting opener who likes to take the fight to the opposition, was caught at the wicket off Chaminda Vaas. Nought for one, things looked quite bleak. But then Sinclair and Matthew Bell went about the business of retrieving the situation in a business-like manner. Both were in fine nick, and stroking the ball well kept building the innings. The two were not to part company till the 30th over.

Sinclair is the kind of batsmen who values his wicket, and once he gets set, tries to make the most of it. By far the best Kiwi batsman in this tournament, with scores of 60, 117 and 9 in three previous outings, and one of the frontrunners for the Man of the Series, he displayed his appetite for runs yet again by posting the second hundred of his One-day International career. Sinclair's both three-figure knocks have incidentally come during this tournament while his other mates have, for the most, part struggled. Sinclair really was going great guns, running away to his 50 consuming just 58 deliveries, with four fours and a six -- Vaas pulled with contemptuous ease to deep mid-wicket, on the billboard facing the roof.

Matthew Bell followed Sinclair's footsteps, notching his fifty, his first in a seven-match limited-overs career, coming off 71deliveries with the help of five fours. By the time Bell (66, 97 balls, six fours) was stumped, in a flash by Kaluwitharana off Arnold, he and Sinclair had put on a magnificent 141 for the second wicket, keeping the run rate in the vicinity of five runs an over. That was good going indeed. McMillan came in and showed his intent straightaway by lofting Arnold for a six at long-off. That was a shot that promised much, but unfortunately for the Kiwis the promise remained unfulfilled as McMillan (17, off 18 balls, 1 six) holed out to long-on.

McMillan's loss slowed things quite a bit, though Sinclair soldiered on, duly getting to his hundred, but the innings really sputtered on as from 167 in the 35th over, only 37 were added in the next 10 overs for the loss of three wickets. That slow rate of scoring was somewhat made up for in the last five overs when 44 were gathered. That got the Kiwis to 248 -- a fighting target but not a winning one, especially against the Lankans who are familiar with the conditions and pack quite a punch in their line-up.

At the close, Sinclair was at 118 (136 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes); he got a life but it was after he had posted a hundred, at 101 when Vaas grassed him at deep midwicket off Muralitharan.