Low-scoring nail-biters are always nerve-wracking. Sri Lanka have found themselves in plenty of dramatic games in Cardiff in the past. Yet, they had not being on the winning side previously – losing five ODIs and one Test in Cardiff. But, on a chilly Tuesday evening, with the stakes at their highest, Sri Lanka finally managed to change all that.
After the first few days of one-sided contests, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 has now begun to produce thrillers. The Asian teams have started to show their worth in the tournament. But, in a match played between two Asian nations, Sri Lanka exploited the seamer-friendly conditions better than the Afghans.
Sri Lanka’s five-pronged seam attack, who consistently bowl at an average speed of about 130kmph, have brought back smiles to the island nation. Despite all the issues Sri Lanka has faced in the past few months, cricket or otherwise, this win means a lot.
Sri Lanka were in cruise control at 144/1 in 21 overs after being asked to bat in the 2nd..
Since the days where they were called Ceylon – the Islanders were known to have one of the best schools’ cricket systems in the world. Before they become national cricketing heroes, most of these cricketers become their school’s cricket heroes, thanks to some of the much talked about big matches. Sri Lanka’s schools’ cricket tournament is more popular than their domestic competition.
These schoolboy prodigies are fast-tracked to the national setup. But, Nuwan Pradeep, who bowled Sri Lanka to a face-saving win in Cardiff with career-best figures, has never played schools’ cricket.
He started playing leather ball cricket only after he was unearthed as the fastest bowler through a talent hunt conducted by a well-known media organization in the country.
Pradeep has had his fair share of injuries, probably because his body is not suited for competitive cricket. Yet, if he’s fully fit, the 32-year-old right-arm seamer from Negombo should always be picked in the final side, especially on seaming conditions like those who encounter in the UK.
From the first ball of his spell, Pradeep looked like the man to trouble the Afghans. His line and length were impeccable throughout his spell, hitting the perfect areas consistently and beating the outside edge more often than any other Sri Lankan bowler.
In his last game against Scotland last month, Pradeep bowled excellently, taking 4 for 32 – his best figures until today, where he picked up 4 for 31 – including 41 invaluable dot balls. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why the management left him out of the first match and played Suranga Lakmal, who is more of a Test specialist.
The old warhorse, Lasith Malinga was not up to his best against Afghanistan, obviously his finest days are past him. But, he accounted for three wickets, the first one in the Afghan innings and two of the last three. More importantly, Malinga was always in the ears of his fellow seamers, barking out orders from wherever he was stationed in the field.
The bowlers covered up for what was one of the worst batting collapses in ODIs for Sri Lanka. The Lankan middle order spent more time padding up than batting. After being 144 for 1, Sri Lanka fell to 146 for 4 after one Mohammed Nabi over and were then eventually bowled out for 201, without batting out their allocated 41 overs.
Some would find it very hard to understand how Sri Lanka screwed up such an amazing start. Kusal Perera and skipper Dimuth Karunaratne struck 79 in the first powerplay, their highest while batting first since April 2015. Perera showed the others what can be achieved with fearless batting. He is that sort of player, who can win matches on his own (The South Africans would vouch for it).
But the other Kusal in the team, Kusal Mendis has edged all three of the balls that he’s faced in this World Cup, getting out to two of them. He has become the object of many humiliating memes on social media and gossip pages in the country . And he dropped a catch too – these are probably some of the toughest days of his life. But, he was Sri Lanka’s top run-scorer in the ODIs against South Africa. Therefore, one would argue that the best of him is yet to come in the tournament.
Sri Lanka’s most senior batsman, Angelo Mathews has flopped so far, two ducks in two games. A lot more is expected from the former captain. Dhananjaya De Silva, who had a dream start in Tests against Australia, has been found wanting while playing seamers. His feet don’t move and his technique seems flawed… that is until he strikes one down the ground, a soothing sight.
The Sri Lankan middle order is definitely in all sorts of trouble. They have started off in this tournament in the worst possible manner. It’s not the time for any major changes since Sri Lanka only possess two other batsmen in the squad – Avishka Fernando is a top order batsman and Milinda Siriwardana is a middle order player.
Clearly the bowling won the game for Sri Lanka but their fielding around the thirty-yard circle was terrible and at times, comical as well, as they conceded at least an extra 10 vital runs. Fielding coach Steve Rixon is sure to have an extended fielding session before the Pakistan game on Friday. But, skipper Dimuth Karunaratne squared things off with a direct hit to get rid of Najibullah Zadran, who was the only Afghanistan batsman, who looked like taking the game away from Sri Lanka in the latter part of the game.
Meanwhile, Thisara Perera redeemed himself in the field with a brilliant catch at fine-leg. Two years ago, he dropped a sitter at the same venue as eventual champions, Pakistan knocked out Sri Lanka in another similar thriller, this time at the Champions Trophy.
It was one of those close games, which will be remembered for a long time. The Sri Lankan batsmen – especially their middle order, must get their act together and not drop the ball in the coming games. Ugly it may have been, but a win is a win and most importantly, Sri Lanka now have two points in the World Cup.