Sri Lanka Women end Cape Town jinx

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CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 10: Chamari Athapaththu of Sri Lanka celebrates their half century during the ICC Women's T20 World Cup group A match between South Africa and Sri Lanka at Newlands Stadium on February 10, 2023 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Matthew Lewis-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Cape Town is one of the best places on earth and a tourist hub with visitors from all over the world gathering there for holiday. Surrounded by the Table Mountain, the city’s landscape, greenery and the scenic beauty are quite breathtaking.

Cape Town is also one of the most expensive places in the world. But if you are into cricket, the game will take you to this lucrative holiday destination. For all its beauty and natural attraction, Cape Town isn’t a place where Sri Lanka have enjoyed playing.  A thick grass cover is left on the surface and it’s quite a toil for the batters.

Not that they don’t try, they cop a few nasty ones on the body and try to be sound on defence. But run-making is also important and this is when they lose the plot. There’s absolutely nothing to drive. Attempted cuts will be mostly caught behind because of the extra bounce. Pull is an option but for that the bowlers have to err.

Spin is taboo in Cape Town as South Africa back all pace attacks. There was Allan Donald with the new ball and Shaun Pollock backing him up from the other end. Makaya Ntini as first change. Often Test teams boast having likes of Cameroon Green, Hardik Pandya and even Chamika Karunaratne as second change. But guess who did that job for South Africa, a certain Jacques Kallis, who took 292 Test wickets.

After the good old days of Donald, there emerged a mean fast bowler with a smooth action similar to Michael Holding.  Mfulneko Ngam was his name. He took six wickets in the New Year Test of 2001 to hand Sri Lanka an innings and 229 run loss, their worst in the history at one point. Sadly Ngam faded away due to injuries. Sri Lanka have suffered heavy defeats in all four Tests they have played in Cape Town while South Africa also have beaten them in all three ODIs.

There’s was of course an ODI against West Indies in the 2003 World Cup where Sri Lanka held onto a thrilling win. This was the famous game where Ramnaresh Sarwan, after being forced to retire having been hit by a Dilhara Fernando bouncer, walked out to bat again without a helmet. But overall, Cape Town has been a nightmare. Of the eight games between Sri Lanka and South Africa here across all formats, Sri Lanka have won only one, T20. Playing in Cape Town, the men’s team’s resolve is tested. Perhaps, when every time they go there, they carry baggage too and struggle to compete.

No such worries for the women though who were involved in the curtain-raiser of the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup against the host nation South Africa on Friday. In a thrilling encounter, Sri Lanka beat South Africa by three runs having had to defend 12 runs in the last over. Riding on the exploits of skipper Chamari Athapaththu, Sri Lanka posted 129 for four in their 20 overs. Chamari batted deep occupying the crease till the 18th over as she made yet another half-century, her sixth in T20s for Sri Lanka. Chamari’s 68 came off 50 deliveries with 12 fours.

Often Sri Lanka’s women’s team has fallen short as Chamari doesn’t get the required support from rest of the batting. But on Friday, Vishmi Gunaratna with less than run a ball 35 was involved in a 86 run stand for the second wicket to give Sri Lanka a defendable total of 129. Then it was a trial by spin for the South Africans. Although their fielding was found wanting at times, Sri Lanka created enough opportunities to claim nine wickets and hold onto a thrilling win.

This has been a dream start for the Sri Lankan women. A win on Sunday against Bangladesh will put them in an impregnable position. It will be a crunch game as former coach and Test captain Hashan Tillakaratne is guiding Bangladesh’s fortunes. Then of course if they are able to go past New Zealand, they will be through to the semis which will be a huge statement for a team that had lacked facilities, opportunities and experience. Sri Lanka often have depended heavily on their captain and South Africa 2023 gives an opportunity for others to put their hands up and be counted.

Women’s cricket is at a crucial juncture with BCCI initiating WPL and India’s leading companies claiming stakes. Whatever the outcome of this World Cup, wins such as Friday’s one will help create interest for women’s cricket. A couple of years ago there had been some very good initiatives to introduce cricket at schools but the progress has gone about at snail’s pace. Countries like England, Australia, India and New Zealand have given more prominence to women’s cricket in the last ten years. Sri Lanka can take some progressive measures by allowing some women representation at SLC’s ExCo and even Management Committee levels.