July 30, 2002

Vandort states case for Test inclusion

Opener Michael Vandort made a strong case for inclusion in Sri Lanka's squad for their two-Test tour of South Africa this November, as he scored a maiden Test century at the Sinhalese Sports Club on the third day of this one-sided series.

Watched by his dotting, cricket obsessed father, who was smoking furiously in the stands as he son passed through the nervous nineties, the left-hander scored 140 from 185 balls as Sri Lanka amassed a formidable lead before a declaration on the stroke of tea.

Needing to score 473 to win the game, or bat for seven sessions to save it, the odds were always against a side that has only passed 300 on three occasions since being awarded full member status of the ICC in 1999.

Sure enough, Bangladesh were soon in trouble as Sri Lanka's fast bowlers swung the new ball, grabbing three quick wickets after the tea interval.

Opener Al-Sahariar (6) departed rather sheepishly having elected to shoulder arms to an inswinger from left-armer Sujeewa de Silva that clipped his off bail, number three Habibul Bashar (3) was caught at the wicket in Chamila Gamage's first over and Hannan Sarkar's entertaining cameo, 30 from 39 balls, was ended as he edged an attempted pull.

A 59 run stand for the fourth wicket eased the nerves of those who would have had to hastily organise the after match presentation had the collapse continued, but leg-spinner Upul Chandana, used sparingly so far in this game, had Tushar Imran stumped five overs before the close, to leave Bangladesh on 103 for four when stumps were drawn.

But the day belonged to Vandort, 22, an ambitious 6ft 5in left-hander with a reputation for making the most of his ability. A late developer - he played just one game in his school first XI - he scored a century on his first class debut for Colombo Cricket Club, a century against India last year when picked for a BCCSL XI and, in this game, 61 and 140 when picked in the unfamiliar position of opener.

With the selectors due to sit down tonight to finalise a 15-man one-day squad for next week's series against Bangladesh, and the Morocco Cup that follows, his name will surely figure in their deliberations. Although unlikely to be selected in the final squad, he should now have done enough to guarantee his inclusion in South Africa.

Speaking afterwards, he hoped he'd caught their eye: "This was a good opportunity to get a big score and put some pressure on the senior players, as I want to become a regular member of the Test team and play as long as possible. I think I achieved that I hope I proved myself to the selectors. It's now up to them."

The only blemish in the innings was his clumsy running, which cost Jehan Mubarak (31) his wicket when he failed to respond to a reasonable call for a quick single. And his only moment of good fortune came on 69 when an appeal for a catch at silly point was turned down although the ball appeared to have glanced the face of his bat after his pad.

He added 172 for the second wicket with Naveed Nawaz (78*), a partnership that sapped the enthusiasm of the Bangladeshi fieldsmen after a spirited start to the day, when their new ball bowlers had plugged away manfully during the first overcast hour, restricting the strokeplay of the Sri Lankans.

But although off-spinner Fahim Muntasir was once again economical, the other support bowlers struggled, as Vandort and Nawaz slowly cranked up the tempo in the afternoon. And when Vandort reached his hundred from 151 balls, he then celebrated with an aggressive spurt, lofting straight down the ground for six and reverse sweeping for four.

With so much time remaining in the game, Jayasuriya could well have batted on, providing Hashan Tillakaratne in particular with an opportunity to gather some confidence, but decided instead to declare with Sri Lanka on 263 for two, denying Nawaz, a gritty but limited player, a chance to become the fourth Sri Lankan to score a century on debut.