A perfect spell of left-arm spin bowling from Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s portly powerhouse, left New Zealand gasping in what should have been a comfortable chase of 120 at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong. Herath, playing for the first time this tournament, cut through the New Zealand top order with a guile, skill and beauty rarely associated with the shortest form of the game.
As clinically efficient as New Zealand had been on the field, there was something visceral about watching a master craftsman go about his work, and when the chase ended at 60, giving Sri Lanka a 59-run win, Herath could proudly lead the team off the field.
Herath was handed the ball in the fourth over, and had an immediate impact. Martin Guptill, working the ball to the right of the left-handed bowler, set off down the pitch in search of a single. By the time Kane Williamson declined the single, Herath had swooped on the ball and fired it into the wicketkeeper’s gloves to trigger a run-out.
Brendon McCullum, who was kept quiet and pushed back in his crease off his first four deliveries, jumped out to the fifth he faced, but Herath had the ball on a string, flight and turn leaving the batsman stranded, red-faced, halfway down the pitch as the bails were taken off.
In his next over, Herath gave Ross Taylor the McCullum treatment, and the batsmen was lucky to survive an lbw shout after a massive heave connected with air and the ball crashed into the back pad. Sensing Taylor’s indecisiveness and having observed his penchant for walking across his stumps, Herath sent the next one in quicker, and when it went on with the arm to beat the inside edge, Taylor was nailed in front.
Jimmy Neesham, walking out to the unfamiliar reception of fielders around the bat in a Twenty20 contest, was brought forward by a slower delivery that had plenty of air on it, but before he could cover for the spin, the ball fizzed off the surface to peg back the stumps. At the end of two overs, Herath had three wickets and was yet to concede a run.
Lasith Malinga, leading Sri Lanka in place of Chandimal, gave his wrecker-in-chief a third over on the trot, and Herath did not disappoint. Luke Ronchi, feeling for a ball that dipped towards his toes, was beaten by the turn, and Rod Tucker, the umpire, did not have a difficult time giving the lbw. With a spell that read 3-2-2-4, Herath had carved the heart out of the New Zealand batting line-up, reducing it to 30 for 5 after eight overs.
On a pitch where the ball had begun to stop a bit and occasionally keep low, Sachithra Senanayake chimed in with two wickets, and even as Williamson kept his end up, New Zealand had crashed and burned to 51 for 7. With Corey Anderson unavailable to bat after dislocating a finger while attempting to take a catch, Herath returned to apply the final touches, ending with figures of 3.3-2-3-5 as New Zealand was bowled out for only 60.
At the innings break, Sri Lanka would certainly have been wondering if it had enough on the board. Put in to bat, the going was far from easy. Kusal Perera likes to feel the ball coming onto his bat and when Kyle Mills drifted onto pad in the first over, the ball raced off his bat, a wristy flick easily beating the field. This was followed by a full ball on middle and leg and Kusal’s eyes lit up, a clean swing of the bat putting enough on the ball to beat the leaping fielder on the wide long-on fence.
When Trent Boult attempted to tuck Kusal up, the extra pace beat the flick, and a spontaneous and loud shout for the catch behind the wicket was upheld.
Tillakaratne Dilshan was less assured than Kusal, but did not think twice about pulling out the scoop, comfortably sending a Mills slower ball over the wicketkeeper’s head. As with Kusal, trying to play Boult as he had Mills forced a completely different result. Dilshan went for the reverse scoop, but only lobbed the ball up to the keeper.
Kumar Sangakkara struck one trademark flayed cover drive, but struggled to beat the field, and an attempt to break the shackles ended an 11-ball stay at the wicket that yielded only four runs as mid-off completed an easy catch.
With Sri Lanka 35 for 3, New Zealand’s bowlers swarmed all over Sri Lanka’s batsmen. Sticking to an excellent line outside the off stump and bowling a length that made committing to front or back foot difficult, New Zealand made run-scoring difficult. The fielding was of the highest quality, and Sri Lanka’s batsmen could not ignore the building pressure.
Lahiru Thirimanne, playing in place of the suspended Dinesh Chandimal, tried to rebuild, but was too eager to try and capitalise on a rare bad ball, and sliced a short, wide delivery to third man.
Angelo Mathews felt for a Mitchell McClenaghan delivery that was angled across him and when Mahela Jayawardene, the top-scorer of the innings with 25, missed a sweep off Nathan McCullum and lost his leg stump, the innings was in disarray at 85 for 6.
Sri Lanka could not even play out its 20 overs, with Jimmy Neesham picking up 3 for 22 to support Boult (3 for 20) who did the bulk of the damage early on.
By Anand Vasu
(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)