For him, the nation comes first


PAKISTAN is an outfit glittering with riches, yet the sum on occasions can be so much lesser than the parts. The Pakistanis do tend to come apart.

Sanath Jayasuriya, who cracked a hundred, punishes Abdul Razzaq.-N. BALAJI

On their day, they can humble the best of sides, but on some others, it can all go very wrong. On September 12, the brittle temperament of this talented side showed up yet again.

The eight-wicket defeat in the opening match of the ICC-Champions Trophy almost certainly put Pakistan out of the tournament. There were talks of dissension in the side, a revolt against Waqar Younis' captaincy.

The Sri Lankans had a different story to tell altogether. Skipper Sanath Jayasuriya, not yet recovered from a shoulder injury, decided to answer his country's call, and went on to reach a century of great character. His 102 will be among his most memorable knocks, considering he looked unlikely to figure in the tournament.

Aravinda de Silva, who was an able ally of Jayasuriya, has an argument with Shahid Afridi.-N. BALAJI

Aravinda de Silva, an old campaigner, back in the limited overs side this season after the Lankan selectors had so unwisely discarded him, made a brilliant 66, and Sri Lanka had got the start it sought in the ICC Champions Trophy.

There was a carnival atmosphere at the Premadasa Stadium for the day/night encounter. There were several groups of people in brightly coloured clothes carrying Lankan flags, making their way into the ground.

The ICC Champions Trophy is the biggest single event to be held in Sri Lanka. The country hosted a few games in the '96 World Cup, but the reluctance of teams like Australia and the West Indies to travel to the emerald isle due to the security concerns then, robbed the Lankan-leg of the event of much charm. That the Islanders went on to win the World Cup is a different story altogether.

Dilhara Fernando, who bowled with fire, uproots Misbah-ul-Haq's leg stump.-N. BALAJI

With all the sides turning up for the Champions Trophy, most of them in full strength, there is no dearth of excitement regarding the event in the country, and you can see signs of it everywhere. Among the people you meet at the shops, who are quick to seek your prediction about the winner, and in the banners that invariably have catchy slogans, such as - 'You are on a winning wicket in Sri Lanka.'

Waqar Younis' men, after their first duel, would surely have something else to say on the slogan. They were anything but on a winning wicket during the day-night game at the Premadasa Stadium!

Sri Lanka did not let the pressure ease on the Pakistanis at any stage of the innings, after Waqar Younis opted to bat. Chaminda Vaas and Pulasthi Gunaratne kept the pressure on the batsmen with some well-directed bowling. Gunaratne, a tall, lean paceman, with years of experience in Lankan domestic cricket, struck early, dismissing Shahid Afridi, caught behind. Afridi can be dangerous on his day, but this was not his day.

Soon Shoaib Malik became the first batsmam to be adjudged leg-before with the help of technology, after he played across the line to the left-handed Vaas bowling over the wicket. Standing umpire Daryl Harper consulted television umpire Rudi Koertzen who opined that the ball pitched inside the line of the leg-stump. Harper's finger went up, and Malik started the long walk back. More trouble awaited the Pakistanis. Yousuf Youhana is the key man in the Pakistani middle-order. He can play strokes, can also blunt the attack, and there is an element of solidity about his ways at the crease. But then, Youhana has gone through a traumatic period in recent times. He was even sent back home before the triangular competition in Nairobi following differences of opinion with the captain.

A splendid delivery from star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan castles Younis Khan.-N. BALAJI

Youhana was picked in the Champions Trophy squad, but his luck did not take a turn for the better. Youhana had just arrived at the crease when he set off for a run from the non-striker's end. Saeed Anwar did not budge an inch and Youhana had absolutely no chance of beating Muttiah Muralitharan's throw from backward point to Gunaratne. This indeed was the turning point of the match. Pakistan had lost three wickets for just 17 runs and could never really recover.

Anwar, keeping in check his natural aggression, made a patient half century and Misbah-ul-Haq coming in for Inzamam-ul-Haq who was down with an injured ankle, came up with a brisk 43 towards the end of the innings. However, Pakistan's 200 was hardly going to be enough.

For Lanka, Vaas and Gunaratne bowled well early on, keeping the pressure on the batsmen. In the middle and end overs Fernando's pace and aggression did not let the Pakistanis breathe easy. Muralitharan was brilliant, as on most occasions, his finest moment arriving when he straightened one on the leg-stump and the batsman Younis Khan (35), attempting to sweep, was bowled.

Shoaib Malik begins the long walk back after becoming the first batsman in international cricket to be adjudged leg before by the third umpire.-N. BALAJI

The Lankans suffered a couple of early hiccups when they lost Marvan Atapattu (run out) and Kumara Sangakkara, trapped leg-before by Wasim Akram, who sent down a testing opening spell. The quality left-arm paceman had a confident caught behind appeal against Jayasuriya turned down and after that it was the Lankan captain all the way.

Strokes flew in all directions. Jayasuriya and Aravinda dismantled a high quality Pakistan attack, that sadly, did not have too many runs to defend.

The scores:

Pakistan: Saeed Anwar c Chandana b Fernando 52; Shahid Afridi c Sangakkara b Gunaratne 4; Shoaib Malik lbw b Vaas 1; Yousuf Youhana (run out) 0; Younis Khan b Muralitharan 35; Rashid Latif c Dilhara Fernando b Muralitharan 22; Misbah-ul-Haq b Fernando 47; Abdul Razzaq c Aravinda b Gunaratne 16; Wasim Akram b Muralitharan 0; Waqar Younis c Aravinda b Fernando 4; Shoaib Akhtar (not out) 0. Extras (lb-8, penalty runs-5, nb-3, w-3) 19. Total (in 49.4 overs) 200.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-17, 3-17, 4-87, 5-120, 6-141, 7-171, 8-175, 9-198.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-3-27-1, Gunaratne 10-1-49-2, Fernando 9.4-0-30-3, Chandana 7-0-37-0, Muralitharan 10-0-29-3, Jayasuriya 3-0-15-0.

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya (not out) 102; Marvan Atapattu (run out) 8; Kumara Sangakkara lbw b Akram 0; Aravinda de Silva (not out) 66. Extras (b-1, lb-7, nb-7, w-10) 25. Total (for two wkts. in 36.1 overs) 201.

Fall of wickets 1-44, 2-45.

Pakistan bowling: Akram 8-0-42-1, Waqar Younis 5-0-37-0, Akhtar 8-0-36-0, Afridi 7.1-0-39-0, Razzaq 3-0-15-0, Malik 5-0-24-0.

THE first person we bumped into at the Taj Samudra hotel soon after arrival in Sri Lanka was the home team captain Sanath Jayasuriya. A friendly smile of recognition crossed his face as he spotted us. We were quick to ask him about his fitness, whether he had recovered completely from the dislocated shoulder sustained during the three-nation tournament final in Morocco.

He refused to commit himself. "I don't know yet. I hope for the best," said this simple man. The tournament did need him. As the host nation's captain and batting star, he carried the hopes of millions with him.

Moments later, we ran into Alex Kontouri, the Lankan super physio. He said it was 60-40 in favour of Jayasuriya taking part. "We will have a final look at him tomorrow and then we will decide," is his parting answer.

Somewhere between Tuesday evening when he met us and Thursday afternoon when the inaugural match against Pakistan got underway at the Premadasa Stadium, Jayasuriya managed to convince Kontouri, coach Dav Whatmore, and the Lankan selectors that he was ready for the battle, despite his suspect fitness.

Jayasuriya's comments after the duel against Pakistan were indeed revealing. "I was not hundred per cent fit, but I decided to play for my country."

Under lights at the Premadasa Stadium, he did play for his country with an innings where responsibility blended with fine strokeplay. For a man who had hardly touched a bat for more than a month, it was indeed a remarkable innings.

Wasim Akram, the wily left-arm paceman, sent down a probing first spell, Jayasuriya survived that phase, and then took the bowling apart in typical fashion with short-arm cuts and pulls, well-struck drives and lofted shots, and raced to his fifty in just 56 balls. He was well on his way.

During his spectacular innings, Jayasuriya became only the second Sri Lankan to cross the 8000-run mark in the ODIs, the other being the man batting with him, Aravinda de Silva.

The man from Matara reached his 100 in 109 balls, and even as the Pakistanis' shoulders drooped. Jayasuriya was walking tall.