Dilshan’s blazing knock

If Tillekeratne Dilshan was the pick of the Sri Lankan batsmen, Ajantha Mendis’ mystery spin made him the lead bowler for the visitor.

Playing winning cricket is a lot about having match-winners. Sri Lanka had three of them as it ambushed host South Africa by 55 runs vis a vis Duckworth and Lewis calculations in the opening game of the ICC Champions Trophy.

Tillekeratne Dilshan blazed away at the start after Graeme Smith opted to field. Dilshan scattered the South African pace attack with strokes both classical and inventive. His 92-ball 106 (16x4, 1x6) was a thrill-a-minute ride even as he seized the initiative from the attack and disrupted its rhythm.

Dilshan fired from one end and skipper Kumar Sangakkara (54, 74b, 5x4) rotated the strike from the other. The right-left combination worked as Sri Lanka built a platform. Then the smooth-stroking Mahela Jayawardene (77, 61b, 8x4, 1x6) sliced open the bowling in the concluding stages with strokes of delicate beauty. He played with soft hands and a deft touch, drilling the ball through the gaps. With able support from Thilan Samaraweera, the fluent Jayawardene gave the innings momentum in the end overs.

Sri Lanka’s 319 for eight was a match-winning score on a Centurion pitch that was likely to provide assistance to the spinners in the second-half of the match.

South Africa’s left-arm spinner Roelof van der Merwe had been the pick in an otherwise disappointing attack. The ball had gripped for the South African as he spun a few deliveries sharply.

Not surprisingly, Ajantha Mendis imposed himself on the contest. There had been much focus on Mendis ahead of the game. The South Africans had not seen much of this unique spinner. Smith had indicated that his batsmen would go after him. That did not happen as the batsmen struggled to pick Mendis.

Smith and Jacques Kallis were going along well after Hashim Amla (in for an injured Herschelle Gibbs) fell playing away from his body to an Angelo Matthews off-cutter. The introduction of Mendis turned the match on its head. The South Africans were hard-pressed to pick him. Smith (58, 44b, 9x4, 1x6) succumbed to a delivery that pitched on leg and went straight on to hit the stumps. Kallis (41) was lured into a drive by a flighted delivery; Matthews held a superb catch at mid-off. Jean-Paul Duminy was consumed by a Mendis flipper. The batsmen were being bamboozled by spin.

At the other end, Muralitharan bowled far better than his figures suggested. The South Africans slumped to 113 for four. The match was won and lost in this phase.

When thunderstorm and rain brought the contest to a halt, South Africa was 206 for seven in 37.4 overs, way behind on the Duckworth and Lewis calculations. The Lankans were deserving winners.

THE SCORES

Sri Lanka 319 for eight in 50 overs (T. Dilshan 106, K. Sangakkara 54, M. Jayawardene 77, T. Samaraweera 37, D. Steyn three for 47, W. Parnell three for 79) bt South Africa 206 for seven in 37.4 overs (G. Smith 58, J. Kallis 41, M. Boucher 26, A. Morkel 29 not out, A. Mendis three for 30). Sri Lanka won by 55 runs (D/L method).