All the fun of the Sri Lankan fair

Wherever the Sri Lankan women's cricket team go, the crowds should follow. Entertainment is virtually guaranteed. If they are not treating every run between the wicket as if it were their last (and it often is), they are hurling themselves around the field as though their lives depended on it. And, in between times, they can play some pretty good cricket.

Today at Hagley Oval was no exception. In virtually guaranteeing themselves the winning of their mini-world cup within the CricInfo Women's World Cup with a 26-win over the Netherlands, they contributed to making a low-scoring affair a highly entertaining spectacle.

Being put in to bat on a Hagley Park pitch having its first use at the tournament, the Sri Lankan batsmen put supporters, opponents and neutral observers on a roller-coaster ride of emotions as they began by expertly accumulating a total of 94 for two in the 34th over, mainly courtesy of what turned out to be a match-winning innings by their captain, Rasanjali Silva. And then crashed to 113 for eight before the last two wickets added 26.

It was almost as if the rest of the batsmen were in a different match from Silva. It took a special demonstration of keeper-bowler co-operation to snare the Sri Lankan captain, stumped Rowan Milburn, bowled Tessa van der Gun for 53 off 95 balls with the score at 94.

Silva's departure started the slide. The next highest score off the bat was 11 and that was from Hiroshi Abeysinghe. She was looking promising until she became the sacrificial lamb when the only case of the Sri Lankan disease in the innings struck. She found herself keeping company with Chamani Seneviratne at one end of the pitch while the Netherlands fielders were focusing with considerable pleasure on the other end.

However, there was one other major contribution to the Sri Lankan score. Extras, through the generosity of the Netherland bowlers, contributed 37, 34 of those runs coming from wides. In a loss by 26 runs, it is a figure that will haunt them.

While the Sri Lankans were going through their batting highs and lows, the procession from the batting crease was almost matched by that at the bowling crease. Van der Gun was the best of the eight bowlers used, picking up three for 18 off four overs, including another stumping collaboration with Milburn, while Maartje Koster's six overs conceded eight runs for one wicket and Caroline Salomons rose above having her action scrutinised to return one for 13 off four.

The boost to the Netherlands batting with Koster and Helmien Rambaldo returning from injury half worked. Koster departed in the first over, the first in a tough lbw day for Umpire Dave Quested. Rambaldo, however, went through to 38 and looked the best of the batsmen on offer from either side.

The Sri Lankan's were very keen on the possibility of lbws; their frequent demands would have been intimidating if it were not for Umpires Quested and Peter Williams towering over their tormentors. It at times looked like the Lilliputians advancing on Gulliver as they pleaded for deliverance from the batsmen.

As it was, they received their quota in the space of four balls. Seneviratne was the beneficiary as Umpire Quested answered the call on the third, fourth and sixth balls of her second over. The hat-trick ball was a wide. That was the end as 43 for two suddenly became 44 for five.

But the Netherlands never lie down. Amid a continuous cacophony of imploring appeals, they tried to accumulate the necessary runs. De Boer was the most defiant, her 26 coming off 67 balls. But it was just too much for the lower order to withstand the enthusiastic fielding and accurate bowling of Silva (CricInfo Player of the Match), three for 24 off eight, Seneviratne, four for 23 off 10 and Jayamali Indika, three for 14 off 6.2.

A very happy Sri Lankan manager, Chandra Munaweera, said the team had done well under pressure. The bowling in particular had been very good.

As far as the batting was concerned, she said, "losing the toss was a blessing in disguise. Other teams do not expect us to get runs."

And, of course, given previous performances, "just one run out was very good."

She said the team had gained a big boost from the highly vocal support from the local Sri Lankan community, who had turned Hagley Oval into a little bit of Asia with their lively contribution to proceedings.

Now, said Mrs Munaweera, "we are looking forward to England."

Result: Sri Lanka 139; the Netherlands, 113. A win to Sri Lanka by 26 runs, barring miracles or disasters, depending on the points of view, guaranteeing them sixth place and a berth in the next World Cup in South Africa in 2004.