ACTION REPLAY

REX CLEMENTINE

SINCE making his dream debut against the touring South Africans five years ago, Sri Lanka's wicketkeeper-batsman Kumar Sangakkara has come a long way and there has been a lot of admiration and adulation for the youngster. Last week the 27-year-old produced yet another knock that went on to prove why he's currently the most dominant Sri Lankan batsman. Sangakkara scored an unbeaten 157 to help Sri Lanka beat the touring West Indies by a massive 240 runs in his hometown Kandy at the Asgiriya International Cricket Stadium. Chasing 378 for a victory, the touring side was bundled out for 137 in the second innings, in less than three hours. Sri Lanka won the two-match Test series 2-0.

On a difficult wicket where the bounce was inconsistent from the very beginning with some balls springing up and some keeping low, no batsman managed to score a half-century with the exception of Sangakkara whose sparkling unbeaten hundred made him the obvious Man of the Match despite Muttiah Muralitharan's and Chaminda Vaas' efforts with the ball.

Sri Lanka had been dismissed for a mere 150 in the first innings by the rookie West Indian seamers and in the second innings it was in trouble again with the senior duo, Marvan Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya, back in the pavilion with only 57 runs on the board.

Sangakkara came in to bat in the second innings after scores of 34, 0 and 6 and a big knock was needed here. He did just that, batting for over six and half hours, notching up his eighth Test hundred and his fourth highest Test score. Kandy is Sangakkara's hometown and the venue, the Asgiriya Stadium, belongs to Trinity College, where he learnt the game as a schoolboy. The hundred was also special as this was his first three-figure knock at Kandy and his wife Yeli and family members were watching him achieve the feat.

The left-hander added 98 runs for the third wicket with Mahela Jayawardene who made 43 and then a further 109 for the fifth wicket with T. M. Dilshan who was dismissed one run short of a half-century. His unbeaten 157 came in 284 deliveries with 23 exquisite hits to the rope and the one that stood out was the elegant cover drive he played, down on one knee, off Tino Best.

Sangakkara's knock was the only century in the entire low-scoring Test series where the second best top-score was 56 by West Indian Denesh Ramdin in the first Test in Colombo. The series had just three scores above 50.

Before Sangakkara's exploits, Sri Lanka had to fall back on the experienced Chaminda Vaas after the team was shot out for 150 in the first innings. Put in to bat, Sri Lanka started disastrously losing five wickets for just 98 runs before lunch on Day One and was bowled out in 46.2 overs. Thilan Samaraweera was the top-scorer with 37. Jamaican Daren Powell was the wrecker-in-chief with five for 25 while Barbadian Tino Best had three for 50.

Vaas had the opposition in trouble, accounting for four of West Indies' top five, and added a further two to end with six for 22 before a hamstring strain prevented him from bowling in the later part of the innings.

Muttiah Muralitharan was down with viral flu, which prevented him from bowling on the first day when the West Indies replied and Vaas did the bulk of the bowling for the host. The off-spinner recovered on the second day to bowl the West Indies out for 148. It was just the opposite in the West Indies second innings as Vaas was forced out from bowling after pulling a hamstring and Muralitharan took the bowling honours.

Although Sri Lanka amassed 375 in the second innings, compensating for the batting debacle in the first essay, the non-availability of Vaas was a drawback after the seamer's impressive performance throughout the series. But Muralitharan rose to the occasion, claiming eight wickets for 46 runs, his third best bowling analysis in an innings which incidentally happens to be the third best by a Sri Lankan as well. Muralitharan holds the top two bowing efforts, too!

The 33-year-old mixed up his deliveries causing plenty of problems to the inexperienced batsmen, who had no clue to the one that turned the other way. Muralitharan was on a hat-trick when he got rid of opener Rayan Ramdas and Runako Morton off successive deliveries, but the left-handed Narasinghe Deonarine played the next ball down sensibly with six fielders around the bat to deny the bowler his first hat-trick.

Muralitharan, meanwhile, extended his world record of five wicket hauls to 46 and ended the Test with 10 wickets. This was the 14th time the bowler had taken 10 wickets or more. This was also Muralitharan's first Test series since returning from a shoulder injury, which kept him out of action for 11 months. He took his overall tally of wickets to 549, 40 behind world record holder Shane Warne who's advanced to 589 at the end of the first Test in the Ashes series.

With the Galle International Cricket Stadium lost to the December 26th tsunami, one of the issues faced by the Sri Lankan administrators is the lack of cricket centres away from Colombo. Although Kandy has become a regular destination for Test cricket the ground experiences heavy rains quite often. It was no different this time around as during all four days of the Test play was stopped on more than one occasion either due to bad light or rain.

The West Indies also faced the disappointment of not having the services of fast bowler Tino Best halfway through Sri Lanka's second innings. New Zealand umpire Tony Hill excluded the bowler from the attack after he had sent down a second beamer. Early in the second innings, Best had bowled a beamer at Sangakkara and when he followed that up with another one to tail-ender Rangana Herath the umpire had to remove the bowler in accordance with the playing conditions. Best was later fined 50 per cent of his match fee by Match Referee Mike Procter who found the bowler guilty of breaching the ICC Code of Conduct for players.

The West Indies tour to the island was marred by controversy, too. After the country's leading players, including Brian Lara, pulled out owing to a contractual dispute it was widely reported that the West Indies manager Tony Howard had allegedly threatened the players of the West Indies `A' team, who were also simultaneously touring the island, to join the senior team.

His efforts, however, didn't fully materialise as the senior players in the `A' team such as Daren Ganga and Marlon Samuels showed their solidarity with the `rebel players' in not taking part in the Test series.

Five West Indians, Xavier Marshall, Sylvester Joseph, Denesh Ramdin, Runako Morton and Rayan Ramdas, made their Test debuts during the series. One player who stood out was teenage wicketkeeper Ramdin who played a few gritty knocks with the bat and kept well throughout the series. Morton, too, impressed in patches.

While the West Indies' bowling was pretty good — the bowlers dismissed the strong Sri Lankan line-up for cheap scores — it was the batting that let the team down, with the side failing to go past 150 on three occasions. Seamers Darren Powell, Jermaine Lawson and Tino Best had the Sri Lankan batsmen in trouble with all three bowling fast consistently.

Muralitharan ended the series with 17 wickets at 10.29. Vaas, who had 13 scalps at a miserly 5.53, was declared the Man of the Series for his all-round contributions. Sangakkara made 199 runs in four innings while T. M. Dilshan accumulated 144 in four knocks. For the West Indies, captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the top run-getter with 154 runs at 51.33, while Jamaican Jermaine Lawson claimed 11 wickets at 21.36.

Sri Lanka won the series 2-0, and, while the result was most welcome the way it got there didn't satisfy many.

In both the Tests the host had several anxious moments as the young West Indians fought gallantly before the Sri Lankans exploited the opposition's lack of experience.

Overall the series was a disappointment for the local cricket fans and it reflected in the form of poor attendance.

After Brian Lara's exploits in Sri Lanka in 2001 when he amassed a massive 688 runs in three Tests at a staggering average of 112.88 the locals had eagerly waited for the return of the Caribbean King. But they were in for a huge disappointment when Lara, the hard-hitting Chris Gayle and vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan were among those who were out of the series.

The West Indian side that toured this time around didn't have a single player from the side, which played the 2001 series. Skipper Chanderpaul was not a part of the team in 2001, owing to injury.

The scores

Second Test, Kandy, July 22 to 25. Sri Lanka won by 240 runs.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: M. Atapattu b Best 17; S. Jayasuriya c Ramdin b Powell 2; K. Sangakkara c Morton b Powell 6; M. Jayawardene c Morton b Best 6; T. Samaraweera c Deonarine b Banks 37; T. Dilshan (run out) 36; C. Vaas c Ramdass b Best 6; G. Wijekoon c Ramdass b Powell 14; R. Herath c Ramdin b Powell 1; M. Muralitharan (not out) 18; S. Malinga c Ramdin b Powell 0. Extras (lb-6, nb-1) 7. Total 150.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-17, 3-35, 4-42, 5-98, 6-107, 7-127, 8-130, 9-143.

West Indies bowling: Powell 13.1-3-25-5; Lawson 10-0-29-0; Best 10-1-50-3; Banks 13-1-40-1.

West Indies — 1st innings: X. Marshall c Atapattu b Vaas 4; R. Ramdass (run out) 3; R. Morton b Vaas 1; S. Chanderpaul lbw b Vaas 13; S. Joseph c Dilshan b Vaas 18; N. Deonarine c & b Jayasuriya 40; D. Ramdin lbw b Vaas 13; O. Banks c Dilshan b Muralitharan 17; D. Powell b Vaas 0; T. Best (not out) 26; J. Lawson b Muralitharan 3. Extras (b-4, lb-2, nb-4) 10. Total 148.

Fall of wickets: 1-9, 2-9, 3-12, 4-27, 5-75, 6-97, 7-101, 8-101, 9-122.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 15-6-22-6; Malinga 9-3-22-0; Wijekoon 5-2-9-0; Muralitharan 9.1-0-37-2; Herath 9-0-26-0; Jayasuriya 11-3-26-1.

Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: S. Jayasuriya c Morton b Lawson 36; M. Atapattu c Banks b Powell 19; K. Sangakkara (not out) 157; M. Jayawardene b Lawson 43; T. Samaraweera c Ramdin b Lawson 0; T. Dilshan c Morton b Banks 49; G. Wijekoon b Powell 12; C. Vaas b Banks 19; R. Herath (not out) 15. Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-6, nb-9) 25. Total 375.

Fall of wickets: 1-55, 2-57, 3-155, 4-155, 5-264, 6-278, 7-321.

West Indies bowling: Powell 28-4-89-2; Lawson 29-1-104-3; Best 20-3-84-0; Banks 19-5-47-2; Deonarine 3-0-13-0; Morton 5-0-15-0; Chanderpaul 3-1-13-0.

West Indies — 2nd innings: X. Marshall lbw b Malinga 1; R. Ramdass c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 23; R. Morton lbw b Muralitharan 9; S. Chanderpaul c Jayawardene b Herath 24; S. Joseph c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 0; N. Deonarine b Muralitharan 29; D. Ramdin b Muralitharan 28; O. Banks c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 1; D. Powell c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 0; T. Best b Muralitharan 8; J. Lawson (not out) 1. Extras (b-4, lb-2, w-2, nb-5) 13. Total 137.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-38, 3-49, 4-49, 5-77, 6-105, 7-111, 8-119, 9-131.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 12-2-48-1; Wijekoon 4-1-8-0; Muralitharan 16.2-4-46-8; Herath 9-2-29-1.