Jayasuriya's day in Bloemfontein

The innings had everything. It had discipline, strokes and the stamp of an authoritative batsman.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Sanath Jayasuriya ran into form with a masterly century. Here he punishes Shane Bond.-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

SANATH JAYASURIYA was a picture of commitment on the eve of Sri Lanka's match against New Zealand. He was scheduled to meet the media before the training commenced but the rain clouds hovering over the Goodyear Park threatened not just the training session but the match itself the next day. As far as Jayasuriya was concerned he just could not afford to waste even a minute to meet the media's request. The media too did not mind. We had a job to do, all right. But Jayasuriya too had a job to do.

As Jaysuriya stroked the ball with superb timing, Marvan Atapattu seemed to struggle in the adjacent net. It was no different when Aravinda de Silva replaced Jayasuriya in the nets. The veteran's timing looked awry and one wondered if Sri Lanka was in the best shape to take on an opposition which was rated the dark horse of the tournament by a number of experts.

Sri Lanka, winner of the 1996 World Cup, had been involved in some hectic cricket in the run-up to the tournament. The tri-series in Australia exposed certain weaknesses in the side even as Jayasuriya was a trifle worried regarding the batting potential of his side. His form was not a concern but the same could not be said of some others who were expected to deliver at the World Cup.

``I'm enjoying my cricket. It's not possible to be successful always but one makes an effort. We've had some hectic cricket but I think the team is very well prepared for this tournament. I must say that as a team we're better prepared this time than we were in 1999,'' said Jayasuriya.

He was not unduly concerned about his form. "I think he's the key,'' said former Test batsman Roshan Mahanama. Even former skipper Arjuna Ranatunga was convinced that if Sri Lanka was to make an impact then Jayasuriya would need to bat with greater purpose than ever before.

Not that Jayasuriya was averse to such expectations. Over the years he has come to realise that he needs to temper his strokeplay at times in the interest of the team and the recent tri-series in Australia confirmed his status as one of the greatest batsmen to have played one-day cricket.

Jayasuriya's hunger for runs keeps him going in all conditions. When he saw the pitch at Bloemfontein, he knew there was a lot for the batsmen in the surface. It was hard and it was true. So the bounce worked in his favour when he opened the innings. And it was one exhibition of skilful batsmanship as Jayasuriya took his time to open up and play his natural game.

``I'll play my natural game. We Lankans like to play freely,'' Jayasuriya had told the media on the eve of the match and true to his form he cracked a century, his first in four World Cups, to send an early warning to the bowlers. Well, in hindsight, it was Jayasuriya's committed innings that saved the day for Sri Lanka.

The innings had everything. It had discipline, strokes and the stamp of an authoritative batsman. "When he wants he can get going in any condition really. The ease with which he whips the ball into the gaps is what makes his batting such a delight. He was aware of the fact that Sri Lanka would need a big total to put pressure on New Zealand and he batted with a purpose today,'' said Mahanama.

The `Man of the Match' award confirmed Jayasuriya's dominance in this contest and it also warmed him for the matches ahead. ''It's always nice to get runs. And if they help your team win then you tend to remember the innings more,'' said the humble Jayasuriya, who led by example, and led impeccably.

The Kiwis may rue the negatived caught behind appeal when Jayasuriya was on 19 but then they had no business to bat in a spineless manner at the start.

A run out changed the course of the match instantly when Nathan Astle took on the athletic Chaminda Vaas. The bowler sprinted and ran him out by yards. It was a crucial moment of the game and probably the turning point as far as the Kiwis were concerned, apart from the decision which helped Jayasuriya craft a matchwining effort.

More than 500 Sri Lankan supporters had gathered at the Goodyear Park and some of them had come from Colombo and Kandy. "Such support comes as a big encouragement to the team,'' said former Sri Lanka wicketkeeper Ranjit Fernando. For the spectators, it was worth the effort as Sri Lanka brushed aside the opposition with disdain.

The Lankans had looked confident of taking on the Kiwis, who took it for granted that the bounce would help their pacemen, especially Shane Bond. New Zealand denied Jayasuriya the opportunity to fire at the start but failed to maintain the pressure generated by the early dismissal of Marvan Atapattu. The big partnership between Jayasuriya and Hashan Tillekeratne gave shape to the Sri Lankan innings and once the team had a fighting total to defend, the bowlers took over the stage to have a go at the Kiwi batsmen, who clearly looked short of practice on such a track.

The win at home against India did not seem to have helped the Kiwis much. Barring Scott Styris, who compiled a magnificent century, there was no character in the Kiwi batting.

"The early dismissals cost dearly,'' admitted skipper Stephen Fleming but then it was their own undoing. Astle ran as if there was no tomorrow and Fleming played like a tailender, hanging his bat out. Ironically, it was the Kiwi skipper was became a victim of bounce and movement.

The poor crowd response to the match was the only sore point in this match which ended as a disappointment for those who had expected a close contest a day after the West Indies-South Africa entertainer at Newlands.

New Zealand, having decided not to travel to Kenya, was under pressure to win this Group `B' match, but Jayasuriya's brilliance left it in a difficult position. The win was in keeping with Sri Lanka's reputation as one of the teams to be watched. Of course, there would be a lot of other teams in the fray, but the Lankans could be trusted to pull it off. As Jayasuriya summed it up: "We've the right blend of youth and experience to go the distance in this World Cup.'' The campaign was off to a positive start for Jayasuriya and Sri Lanka.

The scores :

Sri Lanka: Marvan Atapattu c Styris b Bond 6; Sanath Jayasuriya lbw b Astle 120; Hashan Tillekaratne (not out) 81; Mahela Jayawardene lbw b Adams 1; Aravinda de Silva c Styris b Astle 12; Kumar Sangakkara c Adams b Astle 13; Russel Arnold b Bond 12; Chaminda Vaas b Adams 5; Muttiah Muralitharan (not out) 4; Extras (b-3, lb-6, nb-5, w-4) 18; Total (for seven wkts in 50 overs) 272.

Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-193, 3-196, 4-213, 5-240, 6-256, 7-261.

New Zealand bowling: Daryl Tuffey 5-0-36-0, Shane Bond 10-1-44-2, Jacob Oram 10-0-37-0, Andre Adams 9-0-58-2, Chris Harris 4-0-26-0, Scott Styris 5-0-28-0, Nathan Astle 7-0-34-3.

New Zealand: Stephen Fleming c Sangakkara b Gunaratne 1; Nathan Astle (run out) 0; Craig McMillan c Sangakkara b Gunaratne 3; Scott Styris c Vaas b Arnold 141; Chris Cairns c and b De Silva 32; Lou Vincent c Muralitharan b Jayasuriya 1; Chris Harris b Muralitharan 13; Jacob Oram st. Sangakkara b Muralitharan 12; Andre Adams c (sub) Mubarak b Arnold 1; Daryl Tuffey c Sangakkara b Arnold 4; Shane Bond (not out) 2; Extras (lb-10, w-5) 15; Total (all out in 45.3 overs) 225.

Fall of wickets : 1-1, 2-2, 3-15, 4-93, 5-94, 6-150, 7-179, 8-182, 9-200.

Sri Lanka bowling : Chaminda Vaas 7-0-22-0, Pulasthi Gunaratne 5-0-24-2, Dilhara Fernando 3-1-19-0, Muttiah Muralitharan 9-1-42-2, Sanath Jayasuriya 8-0-32-1, Aravinda de Silva 5-0-29-1, Russel Arnold 8.3-0-47-3.