Monday, July 4, 2011
Chandimal century seals crushing victory
Sri Lanka 249 for 4 (Chandimal 105*, Jayawardene 79) beat England 246 for 7 (Cook 119, Pietersen 41) by six wickets
As South Africa's former coach, Mickey Arthur, once put it: "Mother cricket has a funny habit of biting you in the bum if you mess with it". Sri Lanka's 21-year-old matchwinner, Dinesh Chandimal, was clearly oblivious to those words of wisdom, as he and his fifth-wicket partner, Angelo Mathews, gave England a brief glimmer of an unexpected reprieve, before completing a crushing victory in the third ODI at Lord's.
In the end, victory was sealed with six wickets and ten balls to spare, but Chandimal's quest for a maiden Lord's century - which he sealed with a cathartic six over long-on in the 48th over, after Mathews had played out a maiden at the other end - left more than a few anxious faces up on the dressing-room balcony.
Mathews and Chandimal seemed oblivious to all the gesticulations from on high, and perhaps they had a point - despite the artificial drama, this was one-day cricket at its most one-sided. After choosing to bat first, England's 246 for 7 always seemed at least 40 runs below par, despite a determined 119 from 143 balls from England's captain, Alastair Cook, a player whose one-day credentials remain under severe scrutiny - not least from his No. 1 critic, Mike Atherton, whose post-match interview for Sky was noticeably terse after his recent denunciation of Cook as a "plodder".
Being a realist, Cook will himself know he still has plenty to prove. His guts and determination were not in question in this performance, but aside from another broken promise of an innings from Kevin Pietersen, no-one in the England team batted at anything like the tempo expected in modern-day one-day cricket. It is a moot point whether Cook was a factor in that failure or the only saving grace, but as Jayawardene and Chandimal later demonstrated, there's an art to unobtrusive run-making, and it's one that England's captain still has to master.
Jayawardene's preferred method is to caress rather than bludgeon, and that trait was on display once again as he took the lead in the first Powerplay, hoisting Sri Lanka to 61 for 1 in ten overs, compared to England's sluggish mark of 32 for 2 at the same stage. At the other end, Chandimal played the supporting role to perfection, before growing into his responsibility to see the game to its conclusion after each of the four current and former captains in Sri Lanka's line-up had departed the scene before him.
Despite an apparent susceptibility to the short ball, which England set about exploiting at regular opportunities, Chandimal announced his presence with two flashing boundaries in his first eight deliveries, then followed up by driving Bresnan on the up through extra cover for another four. He brought up his fifty from a steady 73 balls, then raised his aggression levels as the victory drew nigh, and that tantalising prospect of a century closed in.
With seven overs of the innings remaining, Chandimal had 87 to his name, and Sri Lanka needed only 17 for victory. Mathews' response was to block his way to one run from 21 balls, to give his colleague as much of a chance as possible. A Dernbach maiden in the 47th over briefly ended up with both batsmen at the same end, but two balls later - and after several gloves and replacement bats from an increasingly irate dressing-room - Chandimal cleared his front leg to Bresnan, and smacked him high over mid-on for the most joyful hit of his young life.
England's only other moment of real pressure had been of a less contrived variety - between overs 24 and 34, when James Anderson and Dernbach located some handy swing to keep Sri Lanka's ambitions in check. By that stage, however, they were already some 40 runs ahead of the required rate, thanks to Jaywardene's effortless rush of runs in the Powerplay. As soon as the mandatory ball-change had taken place, the lateral movement vanished, and with it the threat.
After the failure of their pursuit of 310 at Leeds, England had resisted the temptation to tinker with their line-up, but the early overs of their innings set an unfortunate precedent. Cook had one major let-off when Jayawardene dropped him at slip on 15, but he did his best to prevent the run-rate from stalling with five boundaries in the first Powerplay, all square of the wicket. However, his first two partners, Craig Kieswetter and Jonathan Trott, managed five singles from 26 balls between them to reduce the tempo to a crawl.
It needed the arrival of Pietersen to transform England's intent. In one over from Lakmal he pounded three fours in a row, but the introduction of Sri Lanka's spinners stemmed the boundary flow and induced the error, as Pietersen climbed into a slog-sweep but top-edged his stroke to deep midwicket. It was the third time in three innings that he had fallen to Mendis, and two overs later, the legspinner had doubled his tally, when Morgan missed a quicker, straighter delivery, and was rapped on the pad in front of middle and leg.
At 88 for 4 after 22 overs, England had neither runs on the board nor wickets in hand, and though Cook did keep the home fires burning with a 127-ball century, his subsequent attempts to clear the boundary betrayed the shortcomings in his one-day game. He was badly dropped at point by Thilina Kandamby off Malinga on 103, and regularly lost his shape while winding up for the big shot, even though he finally connected with two fours through midwicket in the 49th over to give the run-rate a belated jolt.
Graeme Swann swiped ten runs from the last two balls of the innings, including England's only six, over midwicket, but even at that stage, Sri Lanka were confident of victory. Just how confident became clear when Chandimal and Mathews started toying with the game in the closing stages. When your opponents start taking the mickey mid-match, you know your strategies are in trouble.