Simon Hughes: Sri Lanka is modern master of white ball cricket

In their last T20 match for Sri Lanka, the prolific duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardena secured their nation its first-ever ICC World T20 title over a dejected India. But it was Sri Lanka’s bowlers who were the architects of the victory.

It is often assumed that T20 is a batsman’s game. But Nuwan Kulasekara and Lasith Malinga proved how influential, shrewd and precise bowling can be, allowing India just 15 runs from the last three overs. First Yuvraj Singh, then MS Dhoni were unable to get the ball away, crucially denying Virat Kohli the strike and ensuring that India’s final total of 130 was 30 runs too light.

India fought hard with the ball, and took wickets regularly, but without a substantial target to defend, it could never afford a big over, and that came when Thisara Perera and Sangakarra pummelled Amit Mishra’s over, the 15th for 14. Despite being the star of earlier matches,  Mishra’s nerve failed him in the final and his line wavered and his pace erred too much on the fast side. His four overs went for 32 runs. Sangakkara finished 52 not out as he was mobbed by ecstatic teammates. For a man who has given so much to his country, it was the least he deserved.

India could only look on and ponder on what might have been. Their innings began cautiously with just three boundaries in the powerplay. Virat Kohli tried to take the initiative and when he miscued to mid-wicket and was missed by Malinga there were suggestions that the Sri Lanka captain might have dropped the trophy. Kohli made them pay with some classic shots, the pulled drive over long-on, the majestic shots through and over cover, making light of the loss of Rohit and Rahane.

But Yuvraj Singh was struggling at the other end, with just 11 runs off 20 balls, unable even to give the strike to the increasingly impatient Kohli. The crucial over was the 18th, bowled by Malinga, after the off-spinner Senanyake, the most economical bowler in the tournament with his clever variations conceding just 5.2 an over, bowled his final over (the 17th) for just four runs.

Bowling wide and very full, Malinga stopped Yuvraj from hitting to the leg-side, or getting the ball away at all, and Kulasekera did the same bowling wide and full to Kohli in the 19th. When Yuvraj could only miscue a full toss to long-off, departing for 11 off 30 balls (strike rate 57), Dhoni sent himself in, but a brilliant final over from Malinga – getting the ball regularly under his bat outside off-stump, denied him having any impact. The last over went for just seven, and Dhoni, the great finisher managed only four singles from 10 balls.

Kohli had faced just eight balls (from which he made seven runs) in the last four overs. Malinga’s figures of 4-0-27-0 gave little clue to his match-winning influence.

It took the pressure off Sri Lanka’s batsmen, meaning their great runmakers Sangakkara and Jayawardena  could bide their time and play the ball on its merits and see their side home, aided by the big-hitting Thisara Perera with more than two overs to spare. So the country with 1/60th of the population of their powerful opponents finally overcame them in a world final.

Sri Lanka is the original giant killer. It has now lost only one match in its last 16 ODIs and T20s (to England). It is the modern master of white ball cricket.

(Courtesy: International Cricket Council)