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Lankans back in contention with a bang

TANGIER-- With their backs to the wall, Sri Lanka played with a lot of guts to inflict a numbing 93-run defeat on South Africa, earning a bonus point in the bargain and are on top of the table to wit. This bonus point might come handy if they get into a tight spot in the second part of this double league event.

The tournament after the first round was evenly poised, with all three sides having a win under their belt, with Lankans in front courtesy the bonus point.

The Lankan superiority was thorough, in all departments of the game. Having learnt their lessons rather well against Pakistan, they cut out the mistakes and reinforced their strengths. Aravinda de Silva led the batting like a veteran that he is, and Sanath Jayasuriya, Marwan Atapattu, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene all chipped in with meaningful support to take them to 267. While bowling and fielding, they displayed similar application, never allowing the game to get out of their hands.

With Proteas reduced to seven for 131 by the 32nd over, it was all over bar the shouting, and the only remaining interest at this point being whether Sri Lanka would get the bonus point. They did get that, as the innings folded with Sanath Jayasuriya clean bowling Allan Donald for his third wicket.

Aravinda de Silva walked away with the Man of the Match award.

It was Dilhara Fernando who started the slide, striking twice in two overs, accounting for big-hitting Nicky Boje and Jacques Kallis. Important wickets those, as after the early fall of Herschelle Gibbs, Boje with Gary Kirsten was plastering the Lankan attack all over the park. And Kallis is always a dangerous customer.

The noose was further tightened with a clutch of four wickets - Justin Ontong, Gary Kirsten, Mark Boucher and Jonty Rhodes - for the addition of only 28 runs by Upul Chandana getting and Muthiah Muralitharan one, with Kirsten being run out.

So good was the Lankan bowling, and so confident was Sanath Jayasuriya that he didn't bring on his ace bowler Muthiah Muralitharan till the 24the over.

With Boje and Kallis gone in quick succession, Dilhara Fernando and Upul Chandana brought down the scoring rate considerably. In desperation, Ontong jumped down the track to Chandana only to be stumped by Sangakkara. Next ball, Jonty Rhodes guided him towards the third man fence. Mahela Jayawardene not only saved the boundary, he also ran out Gary Kirsten (55, 65 balls, 7 fours). Kirsten, dropped by Russel Arnold in the previous over, was scampering for the third run.

Boucher tried to paddle Chandana down the leg side, leading edge went up and Sangakkara lunged to take a good catch.

The South African chase had gone haywire, and it was never to recover as Jayasuriya pressed himself into bowling and walked away with three cheap scalps of Shaun Pollock, Roger Telemachus and Allan Donald.

Aravinda leads Lanka to fighting total:
While batting first after Sanath Jayasuriya won the toss, there was a lot of method in Sri Lanka's approach today. They got a good start, with appropriate emphasis on accumulation in the middle, then acceleration at the right time, though the finish was not as strong as they would have liked. De Silva was a stabilising influence in the middle order. He literally held the innings together with exceptionally competent batting, remaining there till the end with 73 runs off just 84 deliveries with 4 fours, by far the highest score of the innings and his 58th 50 in 280 One-day Internationals.

But equally important were de Silva's two partnerships of 50-plus with Kumar Sangakkara (41, 57 balls, 5 fours) and Mahela Jaywardene (32, 37 balls, 1 four, 1 six). These stands for the third and fourth wicket, of 58 and 70 runs respectively, not just kept the innings on track, they gave it substance too. And though the last 10 overs were milked for 70 in exchange of four wickets, it were enough to take the target to a sizable 267.

Aravinda, the old war horse, proved yet again that his class and his experience cannot be discounted. Promoting de Silva to two-down was a good move, for he has the ability to work the ball and is someone around whom others could build the innings; he was totally out of place at No 7 against Pakistan. Like a maestro, without any fuss or extravagance, he worked the ball in the gaps, making first Sangakkara and then Jayawardene do the same, for singles and twos, occasionally finding the boundary. They had wickets in hand, and though the late charge yielded fewer runs than needed for comfort, in the main because strikers Vaas (18, 14 balls, 1 six) and Chandana (0) couldn't really get it going.

Solid start:
Fielding an unchanged side in their second successive game, Sri Lanka certainly seemed to have learnt a lesson from their 28-run defeat against Pakistan. The application and shot selection of skipper Sanath Jayasuriya and Marwan Atapattu was a whole lot better.

It wasn't that Jayasuriya and Atapattu didn't go for their strokes. Only they were much more judicious in their shot selection. If anything, Atapattu quite uncharacteristically kept finding the boundary more often than he normally does early on. And between the fours and sixes, the value of a sharp single was never forgotten.

Atapattu (35, off 45 balls, 5 fours) was the first to go, missing the line of a Kallis delivery in trying to jab it on the on-side. The leg before decision was not a difficult one for Simon Taufel. The last delivery of the next Donald over was short and wide of off-stump and Jayasuriya (49, 58 balls, 2 fours, 3 sixes) in an attempt to nudge it to the third man fence only ended up giving a straightforward opportunity to Shaun Pollock.

Once again Jayasuriya had given it away when he seemed all set for greater things, but he had provided his side the start. And this time the remaining batsman got the runs to defend. And they defended it well.