KIWIS GROUNDED BY LANKAN MASTER CLASS
Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai • 18 March 2011
An unfortunate run out of opener Upul Tharanga, and a near-run out resulting in four overthrows, that was the action-packed start to Kumar Sangakkara’s innings. Soon a steepling leading edge had Tillakaratne Dilshan taken at third-man. Perhaps to celebrate the arrival of the other Sri Lankan maestro Mahela Jayawardene at the crease, Sangakkara flicked the next delivery to the mid-wicket boundary. Jayawardene himself quickly got off the mark with a beautifully on-driven four.
The two built up the innings steadily. Sangakkara brought up his 9,000th run in One-day Internationals, and shortly after reached his fifty off 77 balls with 6 boundaries. The hundred of the partnership came in a little more than 25 overs. Jayawardene raised his own fifty in 74 deliveries, hitting 4 fours in the process. It was not exciting batting, but on this wicket the accomplished pair was building up for an onslaught at the end. And then they began to accelerate Sangakkara thumped Scott Styris for a straight six, and two balls later Jayawardene late-cut him in inimitable style to the boundary. Jayawardene, though, was soon leg-before to Tim Southee for 66. Angelo Matthews was an admirable foil to Sangakkara who was now in full flow. He took to Southee, despatching him to the fence elegantly. Next ball he undercut in the same direction, but this time sending the ball over the fence. As Southee went round-the-wicket, Sangakkara repeated the shot, collecting another four runs. He hit two more boundaries off Oram, in between ushering in a superb hundred, his first in the World Cup. It took him 109 deliveries. He was soon bowled by Natham McCullum for 111, but by now had pulled the run-rate to 5 an over. His splendid knock spanned 128 balls, aided by a dozen boundaries and 2 sixes. Sri Lanka raised a formidable total of 265 for nine, but not before their great off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan strained his knee and hamstring going for a second run and being run out.
New Zealand made a bright start, though they lost wickets at regular intervals. At 83 for three after 17 overs, New Zealand seemed on course. That was when Muralitharan came on to bowl despite his injury. In his second over he flighted one around the off-stump. Kane Williamson played for the off-break, but it went away. Sangakkara behind the stumps had the bails off in a flash to find the batsman out of his crease. In his next over he got the prized wicket of Ross Taylor who pushed forward and was rapped on the pads plumb in front of the stumps. In the middle of his subsequent over, the experienced Styris was beaten by the flight and hit the ball back high and straight. Murali leapt and caught it jubilantly. He had broken the back of the Kiwis who were now tottering at 102 for six. At the end of the over his analysis read 4-0-10-3. A little while later, Murali lured James Franklin forward and had him caught by Dilshan at cover. He had completely mesmerized the New Zealand batsmen. They were now in a mire with little fight left. The last wicket fell for 153 off the last ball of the 35th over. The magical off-spinner returned with a haul of four for 25 off his 8 overs.
Sangakkara and Muralitharan earned Sri Lanka a comprehensive win with displays of class. Skipper Sangakkara paid tribute to his star bowler: “Murali is a legend to bowl virtually on one leg and still get wickets. This is his last World Cup and he wins a lot of matches for us. He needs to have the freedom to do as he pleases. He needs to bowl and get wickets.” That is how precious Murali was for the team even in the twilight of his career.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com).