Mathews shepherds nervy chase

Sri Lanka dug into its reserves of batting to pull out a hard-fought three-wicket win, maintaining its unbeaten record in Bangladesh since landing here in late January.

Chasing Bangladesh’s sub-par total of 204 for 9, Sri Lanka overcame an extremely wobbly start and had Angelo Mathews (74 not out off 103) to thank for a calm knock under pressure that guided his side home with an over to spare on Thursday (March 6). Bangladesh’s search for an elusive first victory in 2014 continued, with another close defeat in the final Asia Cup league match.

Mathews was joined by Chaturanga de Silva (44 off 52) when the score was 75 for 5, an 82-run stand off 16.2 overs stabilising Sri Lanka. De Silva was looking good but had to make the walk back after being adjudged caught behind by Bruce Oxenford when the ball didn’t appear to have touched the bat.

A further tremor when Thisara Perera was run out after attempting a stop-start run with 12 to get off 18 balls had no effect on Mathews, who calmly knocked the runs off with Sachithra Senanayake for company.

With this win, Mathews also provided his side with the perfect tonic before the final against Pakistan on Saturday, Sri Lanka having shown it could pull through without a major contribution from Kumar Sangakkara.

This match had no bearing on the finalists – Sri Lanka and Pakistan having already qualified – but plenty of relevance for a Bangladesh side low on confidence after a poor start to the year. While Al-Amin Hossain provided the ideal start, the bowlers were eventually left with too little to defend. Sri Lanka had Perera coming in at No.8, and its batting depth eventually won the day after Mathews and de Silva had done the hard yards.

The standout feature of Mathews and de Silva was their calm handling of the chase when half the side was back in the hut with 130 still needed off 26.5 overs. There was an intensity about Bangladesh’s bowling and fielding during the first half of the chase, but the batsmen negotiated the initial period well. They found the ideal balance between not getting bogged down and over-attacking, taking the singles and putting the bad balls away.

That Sri Lanka found itself in trouble was down to the start Al-Amin provided. He steamed in for his second over, got the ball to move away, and the batsman’s intended drive caught the edge and flew towards the slips. Everyone in the half-full Sher-e-Bangla Stadium held their breath as Nasir Hossain didn’t grab the ball on the first try. When he did hold on during his second attempted, the stadium erupted. Sri Lanka had just lost Sangakkara and slipped to 6 for 2.

Al-Amin had already struck with his second ball, getting Kusal Perera to nick behind, but Sangakkara was the man in sublime form. In the next over, poor calling between Lahiru Thirimanne and Mahela Jayawardene led to a mix-up, with Jayawardene sent on his way for a duck to extend his poor run of scores.

The scoreboard read 8 for 3, it was the fourth over, and Bangladesh was pumped. Two brief mini-revivals faltered when Ashan Priyanjan and Thirimanne both fell, before Mathews and de Silva got together.

That Sri Lanka remained undefeated was down to their spinners stifling the Bangladesh batsmen after the home side had opted to bat. Ajantha Mendis’s variations brought him 2 for 55, including two strikes up front that started the slide, while Priyanjan’s part-time offspin was used for only three overs – still enough to net him 2 for 11.

Suranga Lakmal, who took 2 for 32, also added his bit with two late wickets that restricted Bangladesh’s final flourish.

At the start, Anamul Haque and Shamsur Rahman, back in place of an injured Imrul Kayes, played sensibly in the face of tight bowling, concentrating on building a partnership. The openers had put on 74, but a double strike by Mendis nullified the platform. Shamsur was trapped in front and Mominul Haque, who had been impressive in the Asia Cup, was left standing while Mendis turned one past his bat to hit off stump.

Bangladesh then suffered another big blow when Mushfiqur Rahim, the captain who had also been in good form, fell to an ill-advised shot. Rahim tried to scoop de Silva’s left-arm spin, but was trapped in front to leave Bangladesh 87 for 3 in the 22nd over.

Anamul and Shakib Al Hasan were the last pair of in-form, established batsmen, but both fell when trying to hit out against Sri Lanka’s spin strangulation. Anamul had done the hard work in getting to 49, but missed his half-century due to an outstanding effort in the field by Thirimanne. The ball from Priyanjan had been flicked in the air on the leg side, when Thirimanne jumped up to first get a hand to the ball at midwicket, and then run behind and dive to grab it before it hit the ground.

Shakib became Priyanjan’s second big scalp, falling to a soft dismissal when an attempted big hit only reached midwicket, leaving Bangladesh 119 for 5 in 33.2 overs. There was a brief revival between Mahmudullah and Nasir Hossain for a 55-run partnership, but both fell to Lakmal, and at 183 for 7, with only 3.3 overs remaining, there wasn’t much Bangladesh could do.

The spinners had operated so well that Mathews didn’t even bring himself on, but he had saved his contribution for when it mattered.