3rd Match: Sri Lanka v New Zealand at Dambulla, 13 May 2003
The Wisden Bulletin by Charlie Austin

Sri Lanka innings: Close,

When the teams arrived in the morning, with the ground cloaked in drizzle and the pitch wrapped in tarpaulins, Sri Lanka feared the worst. To share the points and travel to monsoon-soaked Colombo for the next round of matches was potentially disastrous. But seven hours later, their worst dreams had not materialized as Sri Lanka pocketed five points after a nervous five-wicket win.

Unfortunately, the most crucial part of the match was the toss. Marvan Atapattu won that contest and Sri Lanka were afforded the considerable advantage of bowling first on a moist pitch with a serious overnight sweating problem. Sure enough, the ball darted around viciously during the first hour and a double strike from Prabath Nissanka with the new ball left New Zealand tottering on 18 for 3.

New Zealand, who consider themselves experts in these low-scoring dogfights, rallied briefly with Lou Vincent compiling useful stands with Chris Cairns (28 in 30 balls) and Jacon Oram (48 in 81 balls). But as the pitch dried, Muttiah Muralitharan started to find it to his liking. He took his second three-for of the tournament and New Zealand were bowled out for 139 in 43.1 overs.

However, Sri Lanka’s middle order was so shaky, and the pitch so dicey, that the result was still not a foregone conclusion. But New Zealand missed an early chance off Sanath Jayasuriya – a shotgun cut that nearly blew a hole through Chris Harris’s midriff at short point – and Sri Lanka survived the threat of the new ball. Soon Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, who was promoted up the order as Sri Lanka looked for the bonus point, were motoring towards victory.

Even after the dismissal of Jayasuriya, who miscued an attempted pull to end a 68-run stand for the first wicket, and Kumar Sangakkara, who trod on his stumps, Sri Lanka looked certain winners as Atapattu and Kaluwitharana added 47 runs for the third wicket. However, if was not plain sailing for Sri Lanka as they first lost their momentum – after deciding against the pursuit of a bonus point – and then lost three wickets for four runs, slipping from 116 for 2 to 120 for 5. Kaluwitharana, who top-scored with 48, edged behind, Atapattu was well caught in the covers and Mahela Jayawardene nicked one to the wicketkeeper.

With 18 runs need from the lasted 24 balls it was suddenly a tight match and a quiet crowd suddenly came alive. However, Tillakaratne Dilshan (18 not out), who was recalled for this match in place of Russel Arnold, smacked 17 runs in the over, including four boundaries. Chaminda Vaas lofted the winning runs in the next over.

Although the toss was important, Sri Lanka produced a mighty impressive display in the field. A few weeks ago they wouldn’t have caught a cold in a monsoon downpour, but in this tournament they plucked catches out of the air like greedy children do ripe mangoes. Kumar Sangakkara led the way with an acrobatic effort at slip in the second over to dismiss Stephen Fleming (6 for 1). He followed that up with a nimble catch diving forward off Scott Stryis after Atapattu had knocked down the stumps from cover-point to dismiss Chris Nevin (18 for 3).

New Zealand decided that the best form of defense was attack and Cairns decided that he was the man for the job. He smote one imperious lofted drive and crunched another off the back foot as Dharshana Gamage’s first over in international cricket cost 11 runs. Twenty-eight runs flowed in 30 balls but Atapattu’s faith in Gamage paid dividends. Gamage’s bald head may make him look double his 24 years but he proved his reactions as sharp as any youngster’s as he clung on to a mistimed drive from Cairns (46 for 4).

Oram (20) and Vincent (32) continued the fightback, though. They punished anything loose against the seamers and frustrated the spinners for a while too as they added 48. On 94 for 4, New Zealand were heading for a defendable total but Muralitharan intervened. He took a simple return catch after deceiving Oram in the air.

Jayasuriya followed up soon after, trapping Vincent leg before, and Muralitharan dismissed Brendon McCullum for a duck in similar fashion. Harris biffed some meaty blows in an unbeaten 20 before Muralitharan wrapped up the innings to finish with 3 for 16 from 8.1 overs.

Sri Lanka’s fine performance in the field ensured a level pegging at the end of the first round, with all the teams on six points. Unfortunately, with the remaining matches now having being shifted from Colombo to Dambulla because of the southwest monsoon, there is no hope of bat dominating ball in the next stage. During the four-day break before the nest match, all three captains will be sharpening their coin-tossing skills.

© Wisden CricInfo

Date-stamped : 13 May2003 - 15:03