Predictions go for six

Sri Lanka's captain Marvan Atapattu receives the one-day series trophy from the St. Vincent Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves. The Lankans won 2-1. — Pic. AFP-

It was Sri Lanka, against the odds and predictions, that emerged victorious, taking a winning 2-0 lead before the West Indians, who are making a habit of winning matches after losing the series, managed to pull one back at Arnos Vale.

THE mood in the West Indian camp was upbeat following three wins in successive ODIs against World champion Australia, even if the seven-match series had already been lost. Indeed, there were some positives for the Caribbeans from the duels against Australia.

The opening pair of Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds, among the most explosive in contemporary cricket, was in a punishing mood, and in Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Marlon Samuels and Ricardo Powell, the West Indians possessed batsmen who could all turn matches.

There were shortcomings in bowling, yet the resurgent West Indians were bristling with confidence, reflected in Lara's words before the first of the back-to-back duels in Bridgetown, Barbados. The West Indies, Lara was confident, would emerge triumphant.

For the Sri Lankans, this was an important ODI series. Like the West Indies, the Lankan team is going through a transition phase and there were certain questions that clearly needed to be answered.

The side, under a new ODI captain in Marvan Atapattu, had struggled on the seaming Dambulla pitches in the three-nation tournament that New Zealand eventually won, and, in the process, the Lankan dominance at home had been broken.

Atapattu's men had to pick up the pieces fast and it was not going to be easy against a West Indian side picking up steam. Cricket has a way though of surprising us all.

It was Sri Lanka, against the odds and predictions, that emerged victorious, taking a winning 2-0 lead before the West Indians, who are making a habit of winning matches after losing the series, managed to pull one back at Arnos Vale.

It was a fringe player who emerged the hero for Sri Lanka. Upul Chandana, a free-stroking middle-order batsman and a handy leg-spinner, made the difference for Sri Lanka and his 89 at Bridgetown in the second ODI was easily the most important knock of the series.

Now, Chandana is among those cricketers who has not always received a fair deal at the hands of the selectors. This extremely useful player in the limited overs variety was overlooked for the World Cup, a decision that raised much debate in Sri Lanka, considering Chandana is a wonderful fielder as well.

The Lankans had taken the lead in the first game at Bridgetown, yet, the West Indians, fuelled by Lara's hundred, had come back roaring the next day, rattling up 312 for four, and then putting the skids on the islanders in the middle overs.

Chandana was promoted to No. 5 in the order, principally to play the role of the pinch-hitter. The Lankans were struggling at 153 for three, and finding it difficult to push the rate of scoring along on a batsman-friendly pitch.

Chandana's innings was breathtaking with the lean all-rounder seizing the initiative from the Caribbeans with some clean, uncomplicated hitting. The Lankan smashed four sixes and six fours in a 71-ball match-winning 89.

The effort, pleased Atapattu no end. "We knew he had a lot of potential, but he had not lived up to it. He has now shown he can play a really good innings. It was a batting pitch and we got off to a good start."

Chandana too was a contented man. "I really enjoyed my knock. We were chasing a big total, but we tried very hard. I am happy we won at the end."

The Lankans, with the old pair of former captain Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, back at the top of the order, dazzling, put together 71 in quick time before, Jayasuriya, who cut and pulled particularly well, was prised out by Marlon Samuels' more than useful off-spin. Kaluwitharana, then, was run out for an enterprising 34, as the West Indians threatened to level the series.

It was finally Chandana who swung the match the Lankan way, however, if you look at the Lankan innings, there several other useful contributions — Jayasuriya (41), Kaluwitharana (34), Atapattu (47), Kumara Sangakkara (31), Mahela Jayawardene (32).

When in pursuit of a huge total one substantial innings alone may not suffice and, in a nutshell, it was a team effort from the Lankans. The West Indians staged a recovery in the final stages, when Chandana and Jayawardene perished to non-percentage strokes, but a wayward penultimate over by Vasbert Drakes ended the West Indian hopes.

Earlier in the day, the home crowd was treated to some splendid strokeplay from Lara, who cracked 12 fours and two sixes in a 106-ball 116; the left-hander was however lucky to survive when popular umpire Brent Bowden negated a confident shout for caught behind when he had still not opened his account.

Opener Chris Gayle, such a languid yet destructive batsman, notched up 94, adding 137 for the second wicket with Lara, a partnership that laid a solid platform for the West Indies. The visitors banked on spin, but this was a day when the time-tested Lankan strategy came unstuck with even off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan going for 53 runs in his 10 overs. Apart from the experienced left-arm paceman Chaminda Vaas, the Lankan bowlers took a pounding.

It was the 109-run fourth wicket stand between Lara and Samuels that catapulted West Indies towards the 300-run mark, with the last 10 overs producing a whopping 115 for the hosts. Samuels, blessed with loads of natural talent, conjured an unbeaten 56 off only 36 deliveries, even as the Lankan bowlers and fielders did not quite realise what hit them.

Samuels can be so effortless when he puts the willow to the leather. All that the Lankans could do this day was to watch helplessly as the ball rocketed past them. Chandana was dismissed ruthlessly by Samuels for 21 runs in an over, but, he would make amends with the willow later in the day.

This high-voltage encounter that culminated with the Lankans reaching the target of 313 with three balls to spare was the high-point of the series. At the end of an encounter that was dramatic and draining, the Lankans were celebrating. The series was in their kitty.

From the West Indian perspective, it was an opportunity lost, with the bowling lacking discipline and the catching, at crunch times, letting the side down.

In the first match too, at the same venue, the West Indians had blown a chance. Lara won the toss, inserted the Lankans and soon the visitors lost the dashing Jayasuriya to a rough decision, adjudged caught behind off Mervyn Dillon for no score.

As the innings progressed, the Lankans continued to struggle against the Windies paceman and the effective off-spin of Marlon Samuels. Opener Romesh Kaluwitharana, who had his share of luck, made 54 before being run out and half the side was dismissed for 112.

It was at this point that the Caribbeans allowed the game to drift. Tillekeratne Dilshan and Kumara Dharmasena raised 59 for the sixth wicket and the Lankans managed to get past the 200-run mark; they were bowled out for 201 in the 49th over. In the eventual analysis Dharmasena's 40 proved vital.

Given their form against the Aussies in the later half of that series, the West Indians were expected to canter home. However, the early overs from Vaas and Prabhath Nissanka dealt a severe blow to the home side's aspirations.

Gayle and Hinds, a major threat at the top of the order, were sent packing with no score against their names, the former edging Vaas into Kaluwitharana's gloves, and the latter being castled by Nissanka.

Worse was to follow when Ricardo Powell, promoted in the order, fell leg-before to Vaas, and the in-form Ramnaresh Sarwan was brilliantly caught at point by Sangakkara, Nissanka being the bowler. At 19 for four, the West Indians were in a hole.

Lara and Samuels revived the West Indian hopes somewhat, but when the latter perished to support seamer Gamage with the team score at 73, the West Indian prospects appeared bleak again.

Skipper Lara alone offered resistance, showing glimpses of his delightful touch, remaining unbeaten with 64. However, the West Indians were bundled out for 146 in 41 overs. If the Lankan pacemen made the early inroads then Muttiah Muralitharan's off-spin (7-2-17-3) provided the West Indies little respite.

"The opening spells by Vaas and Nissanka were the key. We always had faith in our spinners, especially Muralitharan. But I think we didn't bat to expectations,'' said Atapattu after the game.

Well, the Lankan batting improved rather dramatically in the second clash, but crumbled again during the third game, at Arnos Vale, one of the prettiest cricketing venues in the world.

With the series already lost, the West Indian selectors made some bold changes for this game. Out went the most experienced paceman in the West Indian side, Mervyn Dillon, another senior paceman Vasbert Drakes was left out of the XI, and in came two exciting young faces, Darren Powell and Jerome Taylor.

Lara won the toss for the third successive time in the series, and the Lankan batsmen found life hard with Powell, Corey Collymore and Taylor, turning out the most impressive display by the West Indian pacemen in the series.

The under-rated Collymore got the ball to move around at a brisk pace, while Powell was sharp. Taylor was quite a revelation too with his smooth run-up, high-arm action, and control over length and line. With Ryan Hurley, a swift mover on the field and an offie who is quick through the air, also putting the skids on the Lankans, the emerald islanders were bowled out for 191, Mahela Jayawardene's 51 being the chief contribution.

With the threat of rain looming large, the West Indians knew they had to gather runs quickly, and just when the pace of run-getting slowed down, Samuels, walking in at No. 5, cut loose, striking three sixes and a boundary in his 38-ball unbeaten 45; the target had to be revised, during the West Indians innings, to 160 in 42 overs, after rain lashed the ground. The West Indian were rarely threatened as they were ahead on the Duckworth and Lewis equations.

Once again, the West Indians has peaked at the wrong time — after the series had been lost. As for the Sri Lankans, this was a famous victory indeed.

The scores: Bridgetown, June 7

Sri Lanka 201 in 48.4 overs (Romesh Kaluwitharana 54, Tillekeratne Dilshan 27, Kumara Dharmasena 40, Mervyn Dillon three for 39) bt West Indies 146 in 41 overs (Brian Lara 64 not out, Marlon Samuels 29, Muttiah Muralitharan three for 17).

Bridgetown, June 8

West Indies 312 for four in 50 overs (Chris Gayle 94, Lara 116, Samuels 56 not out) lost to Sri Lanka 313 for six in 49.3 overs (Sanath Jayasuriya 41, Kaluwitharana 34, Marvan Atapattu 47, Kumara Sangakkara 31, Upul Chandana 89, Mahela Jayawardene 32).

Arnos Vale, June 11

Sri Lanka 191 in 50 overs (Marvan Atapattu 25, Upul Chandana 33, Jayawardene 51, Corey Collymore three for 28) lost to West Indies 160 for four in 36.5 overs (Ramnaresh Sarwan 25, Marlon Samuels 45 not out). Target was revised according to Duckworth and Lewis rule.