West Indies v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Kingston June 29, 2013

Subtlety and power succeed on sluggish pitch

On a pitch that caused problems for most batsmen, two thrived, and in contrasting styles
22

How many Jamaican dollars make up a mighty US one? What is the exchange rate? Where could I get a SIM card? Those were the first questions in my head on landing in Kingston, like any other foreign destination. That Jamaica was seriously hit by inflation wasn't a difficult inference to make - it had led to layoffs and an increase in crime. We were advised not to venture out after dark, ironic for an island known for its culture of revelry and celebration. However, my cab driver said that though these were tough times, Jamaicans refused to get ruffled by them, because it was beyond one's control.

That classic Caribbean response was delightfully contagious, and it decided the way I watched the first match of the tri-series, at Sabina Park. Though it was not top-quality cricket, it had enough to be an enjoyable contest. On a sluggish pitch that made everyone scratch around, two gentlemen, one from either side, thrived.

The first show of class came from one of the most elegant batsmen in the world - Mahela Jayawardene. In the absence of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Jayawardene opened for Sri Lanka on a pitch that looked a little dark, and on which both captains wanted to field first. The two new balls were expected to dart around a little bit, and they did. Not prodigiously in the air or off the surface, but enough to keep the fast bowlers interested. While Upul Tharanga was missing more than he was hitting, rarely did a ball pass Jayawardene's bat for the duration of his stay.

Jayawardene began by clipping balls finishing around off and middle wide of the mid-on fielder. That's a shot you play when you have gauged the pace and bounce of the pitch perfectly. But Jayawardene chose not to waste time over such details. He showed that if you're willing to wait for the ball to come to you, watch it until the last moment and turn the face of the bat at the point of contact, the chances of missing are minimal.

In fact, a few balls into his innings, he started shuffling across the stumps, tempting the bowler to target his legs, for he was a sitting duck if he missed. The moment Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach took the bait, he would flay them through the on side. To compensate for the error, both bowlers went slightly wide of the off stump and played straight into Jayawardene's hands - he caressed them through the off side. He made batting look ridiculously easy, but the moment he left after a run-a-ball 52, a different game of cricket started and the rest of Sri Lankan batsmen struggled.

If Jayawardene's batting was poetry, Gayle's innings during the chase of 209 was hard rock. Jayawardene was subtle and Gayle brutal. He started with a booming cover drive off Nuwan Kulasekara, who found some swing in the air and lateral movement off the pitch while the ball was new and threatened to pose problems for the openers. However, the moment Kulasekara pitched up - and that's where he had to bowl to maximise the movement - Gayle responded with disdain. He bludgeoned anything full, which forced Kulasekara to shorten the length, and that resulted in more thrashing.

Gayle's approach rendered Kulasekara's most important weapon, swing, redundant and that was the first of many battles that Gayle won on the day. Ajantha Mendis' bag of mysteries wasn't going to mystify Gayle, for he played the trajectory and not the line or length. The moment the ball was tossed up, he opened his arms and went down the ground. For everything else, he was happy to present a dead bat or push down the ground.

Gayle's modus operandi was simple - keep the good balls out and smash those pitched in his hitting zone. While watching Gayle defending isn't easy on the eye, because he lacks finesse, the skill with which he hits balls out of the ground is a sheer joy to watch. His balance on the crease, the ability to not lose shape while hitting the long ball, and ability to keep a steady head are right out of the "how to hit a six" textbook.

Both Gayle and Jayawardene, in their contrasting styles, made batting look like child's play. In an utterly one-sided match, they gave us reason to sit back and enjoy some good cricket.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kevepere on July 5, 2013, 3:15 GMT

    Sri lanka should give chances to the youngsters up front . Make them take responsibility without playing supportive roles around them. Therefore 1. Tharanga 2. Mahela/Dilshan (rotate number 6 position) 3. Mathews 4. Chandimal 5 .Sanga 6 . Mahela/Dilshan 7. J Mendis/ Sachithra 8. Sachithra / Thisara 9. Herath 10. Eranga (or any other good upcoming fast bowler) 11. Malinga. This team would have 2 fast bowlers , 1 or 2 medium fast all rounders , 2 all round spinners dilshan and jeewan and finally 1 or 2 spinners. Marvan attapattu should help Thirimanne to play aggressively in odi format rather than defending short oitch balls. Aravinda desilva would teach him the pull and the hook shot . Last innings of 7 off 30 balls was pathetic from thirimanne

  • C0l0mb0 on July 2, 2013, 4:13 GMT

    SL need to try new faces like Dulanjana Mendis, Chathuranga De Silva b4 they fade away. Mahela, Sanga need to give some opportunity to ppl like mathews , chandimal to come up the order n perform majority of SL inning. Its been proven even Sanga or mahela hit a half century SL will end up losing side coz middle order do nothing. So its way better for SL of mahela n sanga can provide their experience in middle order. kusal, dilshan, chandimal/Thirimanne, Sanga, Mathews, Mahela, Tharanga/C de Silva, Thisara/Lokuhettige, Kulasekara/ S Lakmal, Senanayake/Dulanjan Mendis, Malinga There r more ppl SL can turn into, its just a matter of polishing them for the big stage. Unfortunately that doesn't happening at the moment. All SL selectors do is finding some patchy work for game to game.

  • Prema1948 on July 1, 2013, 1:42 GMT

    example is the dropping of S'weera for SAan Tour in 2003 at a Time his Test Bat, Ave was 80 (it's batters such as S'weera, known for controlled stroke making that is needed to make the top-order, in all forms of the Game but not the kind of fleet-footed reckless risky stroke makers that that the country has been employing for the last 2 decades) to make way for an henchman whose 1st Cl Bat Ave was around 30 at the time. Incidentally, the J&Ps were compelled to pick Ajantha& S'nayake due to their continuous good performances in Domestic Cricket, though their getting a place in the final XI is always in doubt. Since the local media has been endorsing every move of the J&Ps the ordinary person hardly get the true side of the story. E.g. when S'nayake was bought for a very high price at the IPL auction, it wasn't a big news for the local media, the reason for this was, the henchman of the J&Ps had gone unsold at the auction. Ajantha's omission from the Final Even for the (2B CNTD)

  • balajik1968 on June 30, 2013, 10:05 GMT

    Ajantha Mendis has been pretty much analysed and dissected, he poses no threats to batsmen unless he comes up with something else.

  • Prema1948 on June 30, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    was included in T/20 match against the Touring AUS in 6th & (8th ) Aug 2011 leaving out Ajantha. Interestingly at the Time Ajantha was a leading T/20 bowler in International rankings. Recently the same player with a son of a Minister (both are Offies) were flown to WI, just to play 3 LO games against the WI 'A'. Don't know whether the J&Ps are trying to give a permanent place to one of these henchmen in the National Side leaving out S'nayake, the most promising Off-spinner in the country since 2007. Not a single senior player or the local media seem to have any problem about these practices of J&Ps up to now. It is also sad to learn that nobody seems to worry of poor show exhibited by the left-armer(ODI Bow Ave 41+) since his inclusion as ODI Bowler (since tour of SA2011). Has he been kept there just to prevent the most promising tall spinner from performing? (Verify stats at good website like Cricinfo or Cricket archive)

  • Prema1948 on June 30, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    At a time, all other countries give prominence to their youngsters, as India does at present, the J&Ps purposely ignore the young promising Cricketers in the Country that have excelled well at School, Youth WCs & Domestic Tments, to carry on with the same old average performers till the next WC. However at times they do include young average players that come from hometowns of puppets. Recently one such player was included in the Touring squad to AUS (2013), that has been average both at School&Club levels. In a previous occasion also, another player from the same town was brought to open batting against the Touring Englishmen in 13th Oct 2007(ODI) at a time his 1st Class Bat Ave was 23+. Having checked how he had performed in the Premier Div LO Tment(2006/07), prior to the visit of the said English team, came to know that he has placed 75th & 93rd in the Batting list in the order of Averages & Run aggregate respectively, and again the same player (this time as a bowler) 2 B CNTD

  • android_user on June 30, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    @owl--last I checked india defeated sl in sl on their tailot made tracks 4-1. even on neutral grounds sl have been second fiddle to india.also zero test win in india suggest it is not only tracks but lack of talent and abilities as well.

  • Prema1948 on June 30, 2013, 3:09 GMT

    Touring AUS in 6th & (8th ) Aug 2011 leaving out Ajantha. Interestingly at the Time Ajantha was the NO 1 T/20 bowler in International rankings. Recently the same player with a son of a Minister (both are Offies) were flown to WI, just to play 3 LO games against the WI 'A'. Don't know whether the J&Ps are trying to give a permanent place to one of these henchmen in the National Side leaving out S'nayake, the most promising Off-spinner in the country since 2007. Not a single senior player or the local media seem to have any problem about these practices of J&Ps up to now. It is also sad to learn that nobody seems to worry of poor show exhibited by the left-armer(ODI Bow Ave 41+) since his inclusion as an ODI Bowler (since tour of SA2011). Has he been kept there just to prevent the most promising tall spinner from performing?

  • Prabhash1985 on June 29, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    The way Dimuth Karunaratne handled the Australian attack in Australia, while all those so called big guns fail, impressed me a lot. I tell you today, that he will become a far better batsman than Sanga and Mahela. Look at the way he plays without any care to the bowlers! Simply amazing. Just drop those players who don't perform, like Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Janith, and bring on those people who perform well. Kusal simply performed against Bangladesh, and what's the idea behind keeping him simply because his action is similar to Sanath? That's crazy. He needs to learn bit by bit. Just be fair to everyone. Thisara is the best hitter in the team, having said that, what's the logic behind keeping him out while almost all West Indians and Indians fully packed with big hitters? I really don't understand. That's just crazy. Nuts!

  • BMDeep on June 29, 2013, 16:39 GMT

    I really dont see the point in this article by Aakash. perhaps he should have focussed on some other issue rather than this. What is a typical west indian wckt these days? The good old fast bowlers who threatened d batsmen without even bowling a single ball r no more nd bouncy, seaming wckts which we generally attribute to WI are long gone. This will b quiet evident if we c d recent series dat r hosted by WI.In d last 5 yrs, WI hosted 14 OD series including with Canada and Ireland. In those matches , a whooping 239 wkts were taken by spinners(on either sides) in 56 games. That is 4.3 wkts per match. That is considerably a large no of wkts. So we can assume that these wkts r aiding spin or in other words spinning tracks or in other words SLUGGISH pitches. What I am trying to say is this is not something new that is happening in WI, It has been there this way from past some yrs nw and d teams who r visiting them cant xpect for some good sporting wkts where 270-300 is always on cards