Kenya bounce back with morale boosting win
Kenya's cricketers, humiliated in the recently completed unofficial Test series, salvaged some pride in the first game of a three-match unofficial one-day series at Welegedera Stadium in Kurunegala on Wednesday, as they cruised to a 35 run victory against Sri Lanka A.
It was a convincing win - despite some late order hitting by Sri Lanka A's bowlers that provided a large local crowd with some late afternoon entertainment - that boosted their flagging morale after a difficult three weeks.
Steve Tikolo, the highest run scorer in the Test series and by far their best player, was the chief architect of the victory with a chanceless 107 from 119 balls, that guided Kenya to a competitive 248 run target.
But Kenya's three seam bowlers - Joseph Angara, Peter Ogondo and Lameck Onyanga - all of whom had struggled to take wickets in the longer game, also played a crucial part taking seven wickets between them.
The locals, who had filed into this glorious tree-lined stadium in impressive numbers, had expected to watch Sri Lanka's youngsters stroll to a comfortable win. However, the hosts never recovered from a dramatic early slide that saw them slip to 51 for five and then 108 for eight.
Avishka Gunawardene started the collapse when groped forward to his second ball, a wide delivery angled across his stumps, to be caught at slip. Gayan Ramyakumara was adjudged lbw as he bestraddled his crease in the fifth over and, next over, Tillakaratne Dilshan slashed wildly to be caught at slip for a third ball duck (25 for three).
Only Upeka Fernando, the squat SSC all-rounder, prospered, carving an entertaining 30 from 36 balls. A recovery appeared to be gathering momentum before he was run out after being left stranded mid-pitch by Chamara Silva. Two overs later, Silva feathered a catch behind.
The middle order also failed, with Upul Chanadana, Muthumudalige Pushpakumara and Prassana Jayawardene mustering only 36 runs between them, before a belated lower order rally from all-rounder Dulip Liyanage (66 not out) and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath (41).
The two left-handers added 98 for the ninth wicket, putting their teammates to shame with the ease with which they accumulated their runs on a placid, if well grassed, slow wicket.
But the early damage left them with an ever-increasing required rate. Needing nine runs per over in the last ten, they successfully aimed some beefy strikes, but eventually lost their last two wickets to be bowled out for 212.
Earlier in day, when the captains walked out to toss, the heat was already stifling and Kenya opted to bat first, making good use of the opening 15 overs, despite the early loss of Kennedy Otieno, dubiously caught by Pulasthi Gunaratne diving forward at mid on.
Both Steve Tikolo and Ravindu Shah, both in commanding form after productive performances in the Tests, were unafraid to loft the Sri Lanka A fast bowlers over the infielders, exploiting the vacant spaces in the outfield and allowing them to canter along at a run a ball.
But Upul Chandana, quickly sensing their comfort against the seamers, slipped his left-arm spinner, Rangana Herath, into the attack in the tenth over of the innings. Shah promptly swiped across the line of his fourth ball and was bowled for 26.
However, Tikolo pushed on, striking the ball crisply off his pads and displaying an air of calm authority throughout, as he raced to 50 from just 51 balls.
Hitesh Modi, struggling with his form and lacking fluency, settled into a supportive role, as the fielders spread and the Sri Lanka A spinners wheeled away from both ends.
After the fielding restrictions had been lifted Tikolo tempered his robust strokeplay, probably out of concern for the inconsistent batting to come. However, despite being content to safely manoeuvre the ball into the gaps, he still scored quickly, reaching his century off 106 balls.
In the 33nd over Modi, searching for his first boundary, mistimed a lofted drive and was well caught by Chamara Silva sprinting backwards from mid on (154 for three).
Maurice Odumbe, who scored 72 runs in six innings during the unofficial Test series, harried his way to 18 before a burst from Pulasthi Gunaratne pulled Sri Lanka back into the game.
Fresh from an impressive display in Dambulla, the strong fast bowler slipped fast yorkers through the defensives of both Odumbe and wicket-keeper batsman David Obuya.
Tikolo was running out of partners and having just reached the three-figure mark he tried to swat Dulip Liyanage over mid on and was caught by Chandana (218 for six).
Gunaratne and Liyanage soon worked their way through the lower order, with Gunaratne once again impressing with well-directed yorkers.
Both sides now return to Colombo for the second match Moratuwa on Saturday.