Shivnarine Chanderpaul launches the final ball for six to win the opening ODI for West Indies
Shivnarine Chanderpaul carried West Indies to a thrilling final-ball one-wicket win in the first one-day international in Port of Spain after being left needing 10 off two deliveries. He responded with a straight drive before flicking a Chaminda Vaas full toss over deep midwicket to send the Trinidad crowd into wild celebrations.
An enthralling match had swung one way then the other before the final act. Sri Lanka recovered from 49 for 5 to post a competitive total with Chamara Kapugedera hitting a career-best 95 in a record sixth-wicket stand of 159 with Chamara Silva. West Indies were well placed on 109 for 1 before Chris Gayle fell for 52, and when Dwayne Bravo was run out the lower-order was exposed. Sri Lanka appeared to have done enough, but Chanderpaul had other ideas.
He'd struggled to find the boundary, and the strike, in the final stages but clipped a four off the final ball of the 49th over. Only three runs came off the first four balls of the last over from Vaas before Chanderpaul slammed a drive past mid-off, followed by the match-clinching six which sailed over Mahela Jayawardene on the fence. Jayawardene knew he wasn't going to haul in a last-ditch catch and although he made his displeasure clear at the rare blemish from Vaas, on reflection he'll find plenty to be pleased about from his team's performance.
This series marks something of a watershed for Sri Lanka as they start to build for the next World Cup. Muttiah Muralitharan has been rested, something that will become the norm for non-major tournaments or series, while Sanath Jayasuriya has been dropped to blood a young top order. Throw in the absence of Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof through injury and this was Sri Lanka's weakest one-day bowling attack for some time. After Vaas's 392 wickets, the next best was Tillakaratne Dilshan with 45.
It didn't leave Jayawardene much to work with, especially when Ishara Amerasinghe was taken to the cleaners and Kapugedera's bowling was less successful than his batting. It was the debutant spinner, Ajantha Mendis, who stood up with three wickets leaving West Indies dumbfounded by his variations to suggest Sri Lanka may have unearthed someone to help ease the burden on Muralitharan.
Mendis showed the calmness and control of a seasoned international player, not a 23-year-old playing his first game. He broke through a 56-run stand between Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, later adding Darren Sammy and, one ball after being launched for six, claiming Jerome Taylor in his further spells.
Nuwan Kulasekera was another to answer his captain's call with top-order wickets. Starting with Devon Smith he also removed Sarwan and two balls later trapped Marlon Samuels lbw. Bravo decided the best way to counter the flurry of wickets was with aggression and joined the list of batsmen to take a liking to Amerasinghe. He played his trademark pull off one leg through midwicket before unfurling the shot of the match, a back-foot drive high over extra-cover which struck one of the photographers a nasty blow on the head.
It was a piece of headless cricket that opened the door again for Sri Lanka as Bravo succumbed to a misunderstanding with Chanderpaul and both ended up at the same end. Bravo's dismissal left West Indies needing 67 off 12 overs and the onus was on Chanderpaul. He was composed, but his colleagues less so. Patrick Browne couldn't pick Mendis' box of tricks, but his team-mates will forgive him that. They will be less generous about his dismissal. One ball after easing the pressure with a sweet six off Dilshan he tried a repeat and found Mendis at long on. However, in the final throes it was the two most experienced players on the field who went head-to-head, with Chanderpaul coming out on top
West Indies would never have envisaged such a close call after they'd taken advantage of early movement to reduce Sri Lanka's top order to ruins. Bravo claimed three, including Jayawardene who drove loosely to backward point, after Kumar Sangakkara had fallen in similar fashion against Taylor.
Kapugedera has struggled to nail a consistent place in the middle order since making his debut two years ago but has continued to knock on the door with performances for Sri Lanka A. He expanded his strokeplay in the closing overs, taking two sixes off Sulieman Benn plus another off Fidel Edwards, and seemed to be timing his pursuit of three figures nicely until falling to the penultimate ball of the innings.
He'd been helped in the well-paced fightback by Silva, the more experienced player who was happy to let Kapugedera play his natural game. With the charge on in the final ten overs Silva also began to open his shoulders, but picked out midwicket for a 96-ball 67, full of inventive strokes and quick running, to hand Bravo his fourth wicket. Bravo's all-round contribution earned him the match award, but the Trinidad crowd made it clear they knew who West Indies had to thank for pulling off a victory that had appeared to have slipped away.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo