November 25, 2001

Sri Lanka seal series after nail-biting finale

Sri Lanka finally ended Kandy jinx on the final tension-strewn day of the second Janashakthi National Test when they defeated West Indies by 131 runs in the descending gloom to win this three-Test series.

But, boy, was it a close run thing. West Indies came within 16 minutes of saving the game thanks to a stubborn 59 run seventh wicket stand between Marlon Samuels and Mervyn Dillon and despite an umpiring blunder that robbed them of batting super star Brian Lara.

West Indies went into the final hour with four wickets intact. Muttiah Muralitharan, once again the hero and the man of the match for the fourth test running, was sending down over after over, spinning the ball the square on a worn fifth day pitch, as a ring of squawky jack-in-the-box fielders closed in around the bat.

The light was deteriorating quickly and Sanath Jayasuriya was unable to use fast bowler Chaminda Vaas for fear that the umpires would reach for their light meters and offer the light.

The crowd, which had built up steadily throughout the day, grew more excited with each passing over, cheering each appeal and hooting their disappointment whenever the umpire failed to raise his finger.

Samuels and Dillon had batted for 59 minutes and Sri Lankan hopes of forcing a victory were slipping away. But 18 minutes into the last hour, Dillon played over the top of a full-length delivery from Muralitharan and was bowled.

Samuels and Dinanath Ramnarine kept Muralitharan at bay for 15 more minutes, during which time Samuels passed fifty for the first time in the series, following scores of 16, 2, and 0.

But just after the umpires had checked their light meters, which were surely hovering on the danger zone, Samuels was trapped lbw for 54 as he stretched across his stumps. At 5.41pm Pedro Collins was comprehensively bowled by another booming off-break and then the final disaster

Colin Stuart, who was banned for bowling in the first innings after letting loose two beamers, suffered an equally calamitous dismissal as he successfully defended his second ball from Muralitharan. However, cruelly, the ball spun backwards and slowly trickled towards his stumps with just enough velocity to knock off both bails.

Three wickets had fallen in 12 balls. The Sri Lankans were cock-a-hoop and the crowd joyous. A pale-faced West Indian manager Ricky Skerrit could be seen with his head in his hands. They felt they had been robbed. Certainly an injustice had been done.

Lara had played expertly after the loss of both openers before lunch. He had batted for two and a quarter hours for his 45 before he was wrongly adjudged to have been caught at short leg off left-arm spinner Niroshan Bandaratillake two balls after tea.

The ball had come off the full face of the bat into the hands Hashan Tillakaratne who completed a brilliant reflex catch. The Sri Lankan close fielders started celebrating immediately and umpire Gamin Silva upheld the appeal. Lara stood aghast. His arms lifted in astonishment and he lingered at the crease, before slowly trudging back to the pavilion.

Television replays clearly indicated that the ball had been hit into the ground. The third umpire watched powerless in front of his monitor, able to intervene with on-field judgments only in the case of line decisions.

Likewise the on-field umpires were handicapped by ICC regulations that only allow umpires to call for the third umpire to verify whether the catch itself was taken cleanly, not whether it was a bump ball.

During all three previous innings in the series his dismissal had sparked dramatic collapses. In Galle the last five wickets fell for 25 runs in the first innings and 13 in the second. Yesterday the lower order the last five produced just 24 runs. This time they cobbled together 64 and showed greater resistance, but it still swung the match towards Sri Lanka.

The West Indies team were left fuming. They have had the bad breaks in this Test, from the time Stuart was barred from bowling, and they feel they suffered in the field too, when a number of decisions were turned down.

Coach Roger Harper, speaking straight after his sides 131 defeat, said: "Naturally we are very, very disappointed. Not only in losing but also in the manner in which we thought the game was taken away from us."

He added: "The dismissal of Brian Lara was clearly the pivotal moment. The outcome could have been totally different. I have no explanation for it. All I can say is that all the Sri Lankans in the match contributed to it."

On balance, however, the Lara dismissal apart and a gloved catch off Jayasuriya that was not given, the umpiring was not poor. There were some marginal decisions and mistakes, but not an unusually high number and they did not all fall in Sri Lanka's favour. Ultimately this game was lost because of woeful batting and some wonderfully skillful bowling from Muralitharan, who once again finished with ten wickets in the game.

Earlier in the morning, Sri Lanka appeared mindful of criticism that they had not been more positive yesterday evening. They came out this morning, after a long team chat prior to the start of play, all guns blazing.

Sangakkara displayed the team's newfound urgency early on, as he danced down the wicket to a bemused Dillon and aimed a back-wrenching swipe.

Boundaries were hard to come by over the soft buffalo-grassed outfield, but Sangakkara, on 10 overnight, swivel-pulled and slashed a further 35 runs in 30 balls before he pulled straight into the hands of Ramnarine at mid-wicket.

In the first ten overs Sangakkara and Atapattu added 63 runs, increasing Sri Lanka's 225-run overnight lead to 288. A declaration appeared imminent, but Jayasuriya erred on the side of caution.

Hooper quickly dispensed with Pedro Collins, whose four overs cost 31 runs, and asked leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine to bowl into the rough outside the right-handers pads. The slips disappeared and boundaries became heavily patrolled. The tactic slowed the run rate, as Ramnarine picked four wickets in the next ten overs as Sri Lanka added only 33 more runs.

Jayawardene briefly glistened before he skied a simple catch. Russel Arnold, fighting for his place in the side, scooped a catch to cover in the next over.

All the while, Atapattu had been steadily accumulating runs in his high-elbowed and stylish way. For a while it looked like the declaration was being delayed to allow him to complete his ninth Test hundred. But when he was stumped having hot-footed down the wicket to Ramnarine, Vaas appeared from the dressing room.

Jayasuriya was concerned about the "Lara factor" and wanted to make sure the run-getting equation was loaded in Sri Lanka's favour. However, soon after the dismissal of Vaas he was finally persuaded to call the innings to a close and let Muralitharan loose.

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