Of lines and great lengths
How thin is the line between victory and loss in an ODI game? It's the line that separated Ishant Sharma and Thilina Kandamby on Saturday at the R Premadasa Stadium.
Kandamby ultimately finished on the wrong end of the line, but his superb unbeaten 93 is a huge boost for the struggling Sri Lankan middle order. If he continues to bat the way he did today, the pressure will lift from Mahela Jayawardene's shoulders and the captain can then ease himself back into form rather than fret over what his lack of runs is doing to the team. And when the classy Jayawardene eventually reaches there - there were enough glimpses in his 52 that his journey back to form had begun - the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara can play with more freedom, knowing that the innings won't collapse after them.
Chamara Kapugedera's barren run with the bat remains a problem though - he averages a mere 22.30 from 56 games - but Kandamby's presence has significantly eased the worry. Like Kapugedera, Kandamby has been struggling to make the transition to international cricket. A talented schoolboy cricketer, he was at the risk of being labelled as a boy who could never grow. His march to maturity could not have come at a better time for Sri Lanka, and Jayawardene was an understandably happy man at the end of the day.
"Today he [Kandamby] showed he has the maturity in him. He did not panic and showed lot of courage in the middle," Jayawardene said. "It was an amazing knock from him. I should have waited for a bit longer before I started trying something. It got a bit too much for Kanda in the end; if we had another batsman left in the end we could have probably done it."
Kandamby had scored only a solitary fifty in ODIs prior to this game and he walked into a pressure-cooker situation today. The top three departed early and he and Jayawardene had no choice but to consolidate, even as 88 balls flew by without a boundary.
Kandamby has a backlift identical to Sangakkara's, and he showed similar composure today. He was dropped early, a tough chance off Ishant Sharma, and dug in after that, making good use of the fact that Mahendra Singh Dhoni used irregular bowlers in the middle overs.
"After Mahela left, I was trying to tell the others to try and hit a boundary; with the tail in the end I was just telling them to give me the strike, and I will try to do something," Kandamby said. He nearly did, showing immense maturity in waiting for the batting Powerplay, which Sri Lanka took in the 42nd over. He unfurled three fours in four balls - a pull, a deft late glide and a biff over mid-off - and threatened to hunt down India. He picked 45 from the last 38 deliveries he faced, but ran out of steam and partners at the end.
Kapugedera played a fine hand too, but his lack of consistency might force Sri Lanka to send Tillakaratne Dilshan, their main attacking weapon after Jayasuriya, back down the order to make better use of the middle and end overs.
Sri Lanka haven't sorted out all their problems, but their display today indicated they are ready to step it up a notch to match India. Asked whether he has begun to feel at home in international cricket, Kandamby said, "If I score more runs, then I will". He is already getting there, and the line separating the two teams is getting thinner. Which is perfect for this series.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo