A learning experience for both teams
The game happened in Port Elizabeth. It could have well have taken place in Sri Lanka. Everything was strangely Sri Lankan about this afternoon. Port Elizabeth was cold and windy for the last couple of days. The sun was harsh today; it could well have been Colombo. The wicket strangely changed in character from the previous games. It got progressively slower. The balls occasionally stopped on the bat; they turned big and if you aren't used to these kinds of pitches, you are dead meat to the likes of Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath.
It was almost cruel. Even Jehan Mubarak laughed when asked whether he felt it was cruel on the New Zealanders. "Even we didn't expect the pitch to be so slow and spin-friendly. Someone had to win a game. This tournament has been an eye-opener for us."
It sure must have been. Barring today, Wayamba hardly looked competitive in the other games. They didn't seem too clued-in to this format; they seemed surprised at the pace at which the game unravels in Twenty20. Mubarak certainly thought so. "In the shorter format of the game you have to be very proactive and confident with the decision-making. Our batsmen have been found half-hearted on occasions. You either go for your shots fully or you don't; there are no half-measures. We have a long way to go."
You at least couldn't accuse him of hiding behind any excuses. They probably can't considering that the squad possessed eleven players with international experience. You could sense the relief in him when he talked about this victory. He knew it came on a pitch that was loaded in his team's favour. But the last ten days have been so horrific that he will take today's results.
Perhaps there was no glee in him; it seemed a sentiment of a relief. "It has been a struggle for us past the few days. It's nice to win today. Both teams have had hard tournaments."
Actually, Central Districts had a much better tournament. Way better. They had their moments in couple of games. They had Chennai on the mat with their bouncer-led attack but let them escape. They posted good totals against Victoria and Warriors but couldn't defend. Today, they stood no chance against the Sri Lankan bowlers on this pitch.
If Mubarak looked relieved, Jamie How looked downcast. There was a similarity though. If Mubarak didn't downplay the pitch factor in his win, How didn't blame the pitch for his loss. Both captains came across as individuals who didn't want to offer any excuses. "The pitch was slow but it was no means ..." How's voice trailed off. "It was a still a good wicket. Coming from New Zealand, we weren't exposed to that style of bowling.
"They did bowl well. We are not the first team I suppose they have mesmerised or run through [in these conditions]. That's one thing we can take back; the learning experience of playing these kind of good-quality slow bowling."
It was a sombre press conference. There were just four journalists. The rest were interested in the next game - the big one between Chennai and Warriors. It said much about the stature of Central Districts and Wayamba. There will probably be no space in the papers tomorrow for the game. A 150-odd word report might suffice. Some might carry a picture. Most will not.
Central Districts will blame themselves for their fate in the tournament. Their captain certainly does. He felt they had their moments but couldn't seize them. The team wasn't used to winning; they didn't know how to respond positively to those 50-50 moments where a game hangs in balance.
"If we had played better in those crucial moments, we could have pushed for that semi-final spot. It was disappointing but I guess it will make our younger guys stronger. Next time we can take those vital moments. We will come back stronger. We approached every game as how best we can win it. We selected our teams based on the conditions and we did well but unfortunately on crucial moments we slipped."
Hopefully this tournament will enable the boys to grow up to be men. The coming-of-age stories always have their embarrassing moments. Sometimes growing-up can be a cruel process.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo