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First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
Despite the varying opinions on the format, it's safe to say that Twenty20 provides a great carnival experience, and is well suited to tour matches as an exhibition game. TThe Blacktown Oval is also a perfect venue: short boundaries, a small grandstand, and the rest made up of with the traditional grassy hill. Who could say no to a match with all these big names, with the cost of the ticket being cheaper than a trip to the movies? I also have a large contingent of Sri Lankan friends, many of whom I attended the game with. I later regretted that.
Being prepared for the grass section, as well as the slightly inclement weather, I packed a few deck chairs, a rug, and two umbrellas. When I arrived, I only took the rug in with me. I later regretted, too.
Having lived in New South Wales all my life, there wasn't much of a decision to be made, however, with Sydney having a rather large Sri Lankan population, the visitors weren't short of supporters. The flags were up, the drums were out, and it was very hard not to get swept away with the way in which the Lankans enjoy their cricket.
There was little doubt about this one as stand-in captain Mahela Jayawardene set alight the first 10 overs. Towards the end of the Sri Lankan innings it seemed like the young spinner, Steve O'Keefe, would steal the show with a superb spell of tight bowling, but Jayawardene's innings was still the standout of the match. He played nearly every stroke in the book, with neat drives down the ground, and wristy flicks and late cuts back of square.
Shot of the day
Jayawardene takes this one, too. He has a sound technique but has managed to adapt his style in the Twenty20 arena, borrowing a shot of his fellow opener. Facing the NSW pace attack, he pulled out the "Dilscoop", and ran one down to third man for a boundary. It takes a brave man to play confidently to a ball up around the ear lobes, but Jayawardene was in an entertaining mood.
In the ninth over, Phil Hughes skied one off the bowling of Suraj Randiv. At this stage, NSW were in contention with wickets in hand, following the resumption of play. I felt that the young batsmen would be a pivotal part in a successful run chase for NSW. As Randiv scrambled back and took a scream of a catch, the momentum of the game swung heavily towards Sri Lanka. I think my friends noticed too…
NSW batsmen v Sri Lankan spinners
Spin came into the picture after it rained. NSW had to maintain a decent run-rate to be but with Randiv, Tillakaratne Dilshan, and the great Muralitharan working in tandem, the top order struggled to score freely. Try as they might to keep the scoreboard ticking over, it was obvious the batsmen were struggling to get under the ball. The spinners really applied the blow torch to the Blues' young top order.
Despite being carted around the ground during his spell, the always-charming and benevolent Brett Lee offered a coy smile and a cheeky wave to the spectators near the boundary. Posing for photos, men wanted to be him, and women wanted to be with him. Yet there was no doubt who the crowd favourite was. Wherever Mr 800 fielded, the crowd cheered, and when he was handed the ball, they roared. While there were some taunts leveled at his bowling action, they were drowned out by applause and screams of marriage proposals. It's difficult to contain yourself when you're metres from cricketing history.
The size of the Blacktown Oval made the smallish crowd seem a lot larger. There was a decent buzz around as all were hoping for a spectacle. In the early overs of the game, the groundstaff thought it wise to blare 20-second snippets of pop songs in between each ball. Thankfully, this practice ceased midway through the innings, most likely due to a lack of quality current music.
While my fellow NSW supporters and I were some what contained, no doubt due to the run-rate of the Lankan openers, the chant of Surangani erupted from their followers. The drums and whistles held the rhythm, and even those barracking for the local team were tapping their feet. At one stage Kumar Sangakkara, who wasn't playing the match, wandered to the boundary to run a few drinks out to his team-mates, and was stalked by a legion of fans. They had their moment to grab a few snaps and autographs before Sangakkara headed back towards the shelter of the grandstand.
Marks out of 10
6.5. The game failed to maintain the hectic pace at which it started. Even though the first quarter of the game zipped along at ten runs per over, a mixture of good bowling and few risks meant there was none of the big hitting we've come to expect from this format. The heavens opened up at the end of the fourth over of the NSWs innings, and with it washed away more than half of the crowd and the bulk of the atmosphere. In a truncated game, the highlight was definitely the spirit in which the game was played, mirrored by that of the crowd.
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Gareth Kidd is a "20-something" marketing student from Sydney. A relatively late-comer to cricket, in between study and work he withers away hours on Cricinfo's ball-by-ball coverage, and trawls the archives for facts and figures. Enthralled by Test matches, uplifted by ODIs, and intrigued by Twenty20, he is a staunch Australian supporter yet watches closely the rise of Bangladesh, and indeed cricket as a global game.
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