February 14, 2002

Sri Lanka A batman struggle as Dambulla reopens


Kenya's cricketers conjured up their best performance of a previously disappointing tour on Thursday, as the picturesque Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium welcomed back international cricket after a seven-month ownership dispute.

The visitor's bowlers dominated the first day of the final unofficial Test, as Sri Lanka A, looking to complete a series whitewash, were bowled out for just 262.

Their failure was unexpected after their dominance in the first two Tests when they had rattled up scores of 414 and 574 against a distinctly unthreatening bowling attack.

One explanation for their surprise failure was that they their concentration had been distracted by the stunning views from one of the most scenic venues in the world.

The stadium, raised from a dry land scrub in just 155 days, which hosted it' s inaugural match last year against England, is touted as being the first eco-friendly cricket venue in the world.

Situated adjacent to a the glistening Ibbankatuwa Wewa reservoir, the main stand looks north to the Bulagala mountain and east to Dambulla's famous cave temples. When finished, the concrete walls are to camouflaged by green vines.

But whilst Sri Lanka A's batsman may have struggle to focus in such a laid back environment, Kenya's seemed to be inspired. Despite the early loss Kennedy Otieno, the visitors cruised to 69 for one.

The broad shouldered and skillful Steve Tikolo was once again the cornerstone of the Kenyan reply, as he thumped seven fours, racing to 36 from 40 balls. He was well supported by Ravindu Shah who finished the day on 24 not out.

Whilst Kenya may wrestled the initiative by the close, Sri Lanka A had dominated the early part of the day.

Scoring at five runs per over, Avishka Gunawardene and Michael Vandort soon recovered from the loss of opener Upeka Fernando in the third over, adding 105 for the second wicket.

Gunawardene strutted with characteristic belligerence, lacing 12 boundaries across a giant playing area, as he raced to 70 from 92 balls. Vandort played a steadying hand with a stylish 55 from 110 balls.

The introduction of Kenya's spinners, off-spinner Tikolo and leg-spinner Collins Obuya, slowly altered the tempo of the innings. Gradually the pair reined in the Sri Lankan pair.

Shortly after lunch, Gunwardene was bowled through the gate by a leg break, the first of four wickets for Obuya's energetic wrist spin.

Midway through the afternoon two wickets fell in the space of five balls: Vandort clipped a return catch to Tikolo and Tillakaratne Dilshan was scooped up at mid off after mistiming a drive (143 for four).

When Upul Chandana, scorer of 194 at Matara, was trapped lbw after missing an off-break a few minutes later, Kenya took the upperhand for the first time in the series.

Prassana Jayawardene (46 not out from 81 balls) and Chamara Silva (41 from 53 balls) held up the tourists with an entertaining six-wicket stand that was only ended by the bizarre run out of Silva.

Silva first edged low slip. Shah grasped the ball left-handed but then bungled his celebration and the umpire ruled he did not have sufficient control over the ball.

Next over, Silva wandered out of his crease after playing the ball. Shah, still standing at slip, quickly noticed his lost bearings and threw down the stumps (208 for six).

Rangana Herath supported Jayawardene well for the next 50 minutes, adding a further 44 to the score, before being run out whilst pushing for a second run.

The innings soon closed with Pulasthi Gunaratne being caught behind and Ruchira Perera squirting a short ball straight to cover.

Earlier in the day, Sri Lanka A had dropped opener Ian Daniel and fast bowler Prabath Nissanka in favour of Gunwardene, returning from illness, and 28-year-old fast bowler Gunaratne.

Kenya made three changes, replacing Thomas Odoyo (hamstring injury), Mohammad Sheikh (finger) and Otieno Suji with fast bowler Joseph Angara and all-rounders Brijal Patel, and David Obuya.