On This Day: A glittering ending to the Lanka, Sanga, Mahela Tale

For 18 years Sri Lanka had waited for an outright win in a global tournament, having lost four times in the finals. It was not to be denied glory here in Bangladesh, after beating India by six wickets in the final at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium.

Virat Kohli, the Player of the Tournament. It was a pity that he had to end up on the losing side in the Final.-AP

It’s not easy being a Sri Lankan cricketer. Your cricket board is in debt to the Ceylon Bank to the tune of US $ 10.1 million, according to reports in the country, and asks the ICC for another loan to repay some of the first and “keep the SLC financial situation afloat”. The same board threatens to send a second-string team to the ICC World Twenty20 over contract disputes, only resolved at the last hour. The chief selector does not see eye to eye with your team’s two most senior players, who, he says, let him down by not informing him they were retiring from T20 cricket. The day before the semifinal, your regular captain — who perhaps should have never been appointed in the first place — ‘voluntarily’ opts out so that someone better may take his place. But when you have just won the ICC World Twenty20, it’s a good time to be a Sri Lankan cricketer.

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For 18 years Sri Lanka had waited for an outright win in a global tournament, having lost four times in the finals. It was not to be denied glory here in Bangladesh, after beating India by six wickets in the final at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium.

Sri Lanka’s string of failures — seven semifinal appearances in the last 11 major events without a single trophy — had threatened to become the sort of ugly cloud that now hangs over South Africa, although the fact it was getting there in the first place meant something. There thus prevailed a sense of relief that the time had at last come.

When Thisara Perera struck the winning blow, the players poured onto the pitch, hoisting Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene on their shoulders. What a gilded end it was to their international T20 careers, after the disappointments of the 2009 and 2012 finals. A more fitting goodbye to Sangakkara could not have been envisioned, the left-hander making a vital, unbeaten 52 to glue the innings together when it might have crumbled.

“Sanga was struggling in a few matches. He was not getting runs. I told him, you need one innings and you will win it for us,” the captain Lasith Malinga said afterwards. “The whole team and the support staff really wanted to do something special for them today.”

Sangakkara himself was typically composed afterwards. “It’s wonderful that the side wanted to win it for us. But there are 20 million other people to win for. It’s not just about me or Mahela. It’s about an entire squad, everyone who stands with you and behind you. We get noticed because it’s our last game, but at the end of the day everyone has played a part,” he said.

He had been captain in 2009 and Mahela in 2012. There was a danger that both players could have retired from all forms of cricket without a major limited-overs trophy. “It’s amazing; I can’t explain it,” Sangakkara said. “This is the first time I have been a part of a team that has won a World Cup. We’d been disappointed four times before. It’s hard to describe exactly what you feel, but you feel humble. You realise how difficult it is to get here, how much support you need. You can never do anything alone. It’s been an amazing journey. It’s time to walk away, and to walk away like this is even better.”

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If all this talk of perfect farewells sounds like a mawkish fairytale, nothing could be further from the truth. Sri Lanka thoroughly deserved to win this tournament — there is no gainsaying that. Malinga may have finished with only five wickets to his name, but he was instrumental in the team’s success throughout the tournament, largely bowling at the death and making teams’ lives miserable.

In the final, he played a great part in tying India down in the final few overs — Yuvraj Singh had an equal hand in it, some would say — and killing any momentum. The contest was effectively won there. Both camps acknowledged it.

“The last four overs we bowled were immaculate,” Sangakkara said. “I haven’t seen four overs like that bowled to a guy on 70-something off 50 balls (Virat Kohli) and M. S. Dhoni, who can hit any ball out of the park. For them not to be able to get bat on ball, showed the quality of our bowling and the hard work and planning that had been done ahead of the game. You would take chasing 130 any day, but to restrict a side like that, we needed something special and our bowlers produced it.”

Dhoni could only admire. “They were looking for wide yorkers and all the balls were perfect wide yorkers,” he said.

Nuwan Kulasekara, who finished as Sri Lanka’s highest wicket-taker with eight scalps, was another key factor in the outcome. His pace may seem easy to put away, but he’s a skilful bowler, swinging the new ball and capable of hitting the same spot again and again with the old one.

If Sri Lanka’s story seems dominated by its bowling, it is because that is how it largely was. An inexplicably belated decision was taken to drop Ajantha Mendis and in came Rangana Herath. The left-arm spinner destroyed New Zealand to send his side through to the semifinals and was then exceptional in both knock-out matches.

It was a surprising move to drop the regular captain Dinesh Chandimal ahead of the semifinals, and there could be more to it than meets the eye, but it was a sound one. Chandimal had not been scoring runs and Lahiru Thirimanne, in his stead, played a vital hand in the semifinal defeat of West Indies.

It perhaps demonstrates Sri Lanka’s flexibility in the format. In the final, the big hitting Thisara Perera was promoted up the order and he struck three sixes to kill the game off. “It’s something they keep on doing. They are fantastic; they keep changing their plans when needed,” Dhoni said.

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In the end, it all came together for Sri Lanka, after years of hurt. Sangakkara dismissed the idea that they probably deserved something for all those near-misses. “I don’t think the game owes us, or any player, anything,” he said. “The game gives us the opportunities and it’s up to us to try and take them. We had four opportunities before this, and today we took it. You need a bit of ability, luck, planning, execution. Right place, right time, right game.”

THE SCORES

India: Rohit Sharma c Senanayake b Herath 29, Ajinkya Rahane b Mathews 3, Virat Kohli (run out) 77, Yuvraj Singh c Thisara Perera b Kulasekara 11, M. S. Dhoni (not out) 4; Extras (b-2, lb-2, w-2): 6; Total (for four wickets in 20 overs): 130.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-64, 3-119, 4-130.

Sri Lanka bowling: Nuwan Kulasekara 4-0-29-1, Angelo Mathews 4-0-25-1, Sachithra Senanayake 4-0-22-0, Lasith Malinga 4-0-27-0, Rangana Herath 4-0-23-1.

Sri Lanka: Kusal Perera c Jadeja b Mohit 5, Tillakaratne Dilshan c Kohli b Ashwin 18, Mahela Jayawardene c Ashwin b Raina 24, Kumar Sangakkara (not out) 52, Lahiru Thirimanne c Dhoni b Mishra 7, Thisara Perera (not out) 23; Extras (lb-2, w-3): 5; Total (for four wickets in 17.5 overs): 134.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-41, 3-65, 4-78.

India bowling: Bhuvneshwar Kumar 3-0-18-0, Mohit Sharma 2-0-18-1, R. Ashwin 3.5-0-29-1, Amit Mishra 4-0-32-1, Suresh Raina 4-0-24-1, Ravindra Jadeja 1-0-11-0.