Jayawardene sees the light after slump
It was a measure of Sri Lanka's overwhelming superiority in this game that Muttiah Muralitharan could afford to have a mediocre outing. Having suffered a bit of a mauling at Brian Lara's hands in 2001, Murali ran into another left-hander determined to assert himself.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul might have struggled to work Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando off the square, but he pummelled four sixes off Murali while taking him for 38 from just 31 balls. For the near-capacity crowd, it was but consolation, with the asking rate having climbed into double figures as early as the 30th over.
In their first Super Eights game, Sri Lanka lost a match that they would have expected to win, against South Africa on a sluggish pitch. But with even the weather gods frowning on them on Sunday morning, they delved deep to produce the sort of dynamic all-round performance that had pushed a feeble Indian side through the tournament's trap-door.
The headlines will undoubtedly be hogged by Sanath Jayasuriya, after 115 scintillating runs and three wickets, but just as critical was a dogged 82 from Mahela Jayawardene. When he arrived at the crease, Sri Lanka were sliding on very thin ice. Lara had won an important toss, and Daren Powell was making use of it with another excellent spell of new-ball bowling.
His seven World Cup innings in 2003 had fetched Jayawardene all of 21 runs, and his record over the past few months against decent opposition was nothing to crow about. Had he departed early, as he did against South Africa, a combination of the leaden skies, raucous support and committed work in the field might have induced a collapse.
It didn't happen. The sky stayed grey, and the crowd roared, but West Indies disintegrated once Powell's spell was over. Chris Gayle started with long hops and wides, and was duly swatted away, while the usually metronomic Ian Bradshaw endured a real savaging from Jayasuriya. The two Dwaynes, Bravo and Smith, are usually effective on these kind of pitches, but once Jayasuriya abandoned circumspection for bristling intent, they were made to look like trundlers with little variety and guile.
As Jayasuriya went from handbrake to full throttle in the space of a few deliveries, Jayawardene had the time to play himself in. He needed it too, appearing listless and strokeless in the opening exchanges. Only ten came from the first 25 balls he faced, and after 50 deliveries, he was becalmed on 22, by which time Jayasuriya had thumped to a run-a-ball 53.
When asked what it felt like to break out of his slump finally, Jayawardene laughed and said: "I got runs against Bermuda. You don't count that?"
For him and most others apart from the exceptional Jayasuriya, batting was hard work on this Providence pitch. Of Sri Lanka's total, only 106 came in boundaries, and the quality of the running between wickets was mitigated only by some abysmal West Indian fielding. Smith's failure to catch Jayawardene at deep midwicket might not have been costly in terms of runs, but it summed up a third successive West Indian debacle after an encouraging start to the competition.
After the defeat to South Africa, Tom Moody had talked of how his batsmen would address the situation. Jayasuriya, who Jayawardene termed a "big-game player", shone the torch for the others with his 25th century, an innings of two parts that he said he would "never forget". Having eked out 14 from the first 33 balls he faced, Jayasuriya exploded into life with the third Powerplay being taken. Batting as though he desired an extra zero on his back - his shirt has 07 on it - he raced to his century from 86 balls. There was the odd miscue on a slow pitch, but the patented pick-up shots over the leg side were breathtaking.
"He was exceptional today," Lara, who knows a thing or two about special World Cup knocks, said. "We did not see it coming." Jayawardene certainly did. "He changed the momentum," he said. "Sanath took the pressure out. I could play risk-free and straight. I didn't have to look for runs."
The 183-run partnership effectively settled the game, with Tillakaratne Dilshan's 22-ball cameo merely making West Indian shoulders droop even more. But even with so much by way of run-insurance, Sri Lanka were exceptional in the field. "The idea was not to give them an explosive start," Jayawardene said. "They had to take chances."
Few of them came off, though Chanderpaul's sixes did give Murali ordinary figures for a change. Tremendous wicketkeeping had already killed off admittedly slim West Indian hopes, with both Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan suspended in mid-air as Kumar Sangakkara whipped off the bails faster than you could say Jumpin' Jack Flash. "He's a workaholic," Jayawardene said later. "He bats for hours and hours and keeps for hours too. It pays off."
Almost everything Sri Lanka tried today paid off too. "They played good cricket," Lara said. "We didn't play to the best of our ability but were totally outclassed. They ticked all the boxes." Jayawardene admitted that it would be "brilliant to dream of winning the World Cup", but didn't dare look as far ahead as April 28. If they can play like this though, the chance of that dream becoming reality can't be discounted.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo