Sri Lanka gets more than a scare

REX CLEMENTINE

SRI LANKA'S first Test of the season against the touring West Indies was significant not only because the hosts were playing their 150th game, but for a few other reasons too. This was the first important game after the Tsunami disaster. Even the domestic cricket tournaments were suspended and it took some six months for the passion to rekindle.

It certainly wasn't the stuff the hosts wanted to see though as the West Indian side lacked ten of its regulars including Brian Charles Lara, the most popular foreign cricketer in this part of the world. His heroics four years ago when he amassed a staggering 688 runs at an incredible average of 112.88 are still remembered. The disappointment was openly expressed as well. The country's best known cricket fan Percy Abeysekara summed it all when he said, "My disappointment of not seeing Lara is bigger than an elephant."

Men who mattered expressed their disappointment too. Sri Lanka's captain Marvan Atapattu voiced his concern when he said, "Not seeing Brian is a disappointment. I like to think I have played with the best players in the world. Lara is one of the best and with him not here will make me think that I didn't play against the best. He gave us a lot of trouble and plenty to think when the West Indians were here four years ago. It is disappointing not to play against him."

There were also concerns by the sponsors, Union Assurance Limited and the Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket Jayantha Dharmadasa. However, the young West Indies side put up a gallant show giving the hosts more than a scare. Although this was expected to be a cake-walk, the Lankans fumbled before managing to win by six wickets.

West Indies went into the game giving Test caps to opening batsman Xavier Marshall, top order batsman Runako Morton and wicket-keeper batsman Denesh Ramdin. All-rounder Gayan Wijekoon made his Test debut for Sri Lanka. Before the SSC Test, only captain Shivnarine Chanderpaul (85) in the West Indian team had played more than 10 Test Matches for the side.

West Indies won the toss and elected to bat in overcast conditions. But that didn't prove to be a wise decision as it lost three wickets rather cheaply by lunch and Lasith Malinga reduced the visitors to 113 for five soon after the break. Ramdin showed signs of promise when he notched up a 50. More importantly he added 79 runs for the sixth wicket with Chanderpaul. Later Omari Banks shared a 81-run partnership for the seventh wicket with his skipper. West Indies ended the day with major honours at 271 for six. Chanderpaul was the top scorer with 69.

The next morning Chaminda Vaas ran through the tail as the West Indies added only 14 runs to the overnight score and was all out for 285. But that was no reason for disappointment as the young brigade of fast bowlers, Jermaine Lawson, Tino Best and Darren Powell, bowled quick and had Sri Lanka's top order gasping for breath.

Captain Atapattu dragged a Powell delivery onto his stumps and was dismissed for one while his opening partner joined him in the dressing room soon after when he chopped an express delivery from Lawson to his pads and was out caught bat pad. The two new ball bowlers also got rid of Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera in quick succession. Off-spinner Omari Banks too joined the party striking two vital blows by removing Kumar Sangakkara (34) and T. M. Dilshan (32) and the Lankans were reeling at 93 for six and later 113 for seven.

Then came the crisis man Chaminda Vaas who has rescued his team many times with the ball and occasionally with the bat and this time he had to bail his side out with the bat which he did with a typical back to the wall knock. Vaas is an unsung hero as Muralitharan takes away all the hurrahs pushing the left arm seamer to the background.

The 31-year-old, fresh from a county stint with Worcestershire, batted sensibly and his batting display was an indication that the wicket had no terrors. He added 36 runs for the eighth wicket with left arm spinner Rangana Herath, but the most crucial partnership came when he added 66 invaluable runs for the ninth wicket with Muralitharan.

Muralitharan was playing his first Test in eleven months since undergoing shoulder surgery. The tail-ender known for his carefree approach to batting put his head down giving most of the strike to his senior partner, but wasn't afraid to swing his bat when the opportunity was there. He hit Sri Lanka's only six when he whacked part-time spinner Narsingh Deonarine.

Vaas was dismissed just one run short of his ninth Test fifty with the score on 215 but he had ensured the team had posted a safe score, though conceding a lead of 58 runs. But the West Indies had to put up with Vaas again as he struck two vital blows to drive home the advantage.

He trapped debutants Xaiver Marshall and Runako Morton leg before in the space of three deliveries and later Muralitharan dismissed Sylvester Joseph for two to reduce the tourists to 17 for three.

On the third day, two sessions were lost due to rain and bad light. Play started only after lunch, but there were several interruptions and only 109 minutes play was possible. But during the available time, Vaas had a telling impact claiming two wickets in successive deliveries to reduce the West Indies to 21 for five. Muralitharan, who had claimed only one wicket in the first innings, made amends in the second by taking four West Indian wickets on day four to put Sri Lanka in command. West Indies was bowled out for 113. Muralitharan claimed six for 36 and took his World record of five wicket hauls to 45.

Sri Lanka's target was 172, but the way it went about didn't impress many. The hosts took lunch at 25 without loss, but soon after the break, Jayasuriya, Atapattu and Sangakkara were all back in the pavilion with only 49 runs on the board still needing 121 to win.

Thilan Samaraweera who had come in for criticism for getting out playing an irresponsible stroke in the first innings with the team in deep trouble delivered the goods this time making his ninth Test fifty in style. Together with Jayawardene he did a rescue mission outscoring stroke maker Jayawardene. His fifty came in just 53 deliveries out of which he had dispatched eight to the boundary. The 28-year-old's four drives straight down the ground were his trademark shots and brought some vital runs.

Jayawardene meanwhile played a supportive role holding one end up, but wasn't afraid to punish anything loose. If the West Indies bowlers were on top in the first hour after lunch, it was the batsmen who were calling the shots in the second hour as Sri Lanka took lunch comfortably placed at 132 for four needing only 40 runs to win now with seven wickets in hand.

The home team did lose Samaraweera soon after the break leg before to Jermaine Lawson for 51, but T. M. Dilshan entertained the crowd with a cameo 30 and brought up the winning runs driving Tino Best for four. Jayawardene was at the other end unbeaten on 41.

Lawson, who bowled quick and had the best of Sri Lankan batsmen in trouble, was later reported to the ICC for illegal bowling action by Match Referee Mike Procter.

Vaas' all-round performance won him the man of the match award. The Test Match was also coach Tom Moody's first on field assignment and he made a winning start. After the game, Moody's relaxed nature when the going got tough was a topic for discussion in the press.

The scores

First Test, Colombo, July 13 to 16. Sri Lanka won by six wickets.

West Indies — 1st innings: S. C. Joseph lbw Wijekoon 28; X. M. Marshall lbw Vaas 10; R. S. Morton b Muralitharan 43; N. Deonarine c Sangakkara b Malinga 12; S. Chanderpaul lbw Vaas 69; D. R. Smith lbw Malinga 4; D. Ramdin b Wijekoon 56; O. A. C. Banks b Malinga 32; D. B. Powell c Jayawardene b Malinga 3; T. L. Best b Vaas 4; J. J. C Lawson (not out) 4; Extras (lb 7, nb 13) 20; Total 285.

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-72, 3-95, 4-109, 5-113, 6-192, 7-273, 8-276, 9-281.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 16.4-4-35-3, Malinga 14-1-71-4, Wijekoon 10-1-49-2, Muralitharan 29-8-56-1, Herath 14-1-52-0, Jayasuriya 5-1-15-0.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: M. S. Atapattu b Powell 1; S. T. Jayasuriya c Smith b Lawson 3; K. C. Sangakkara c Ramdin b Banks 34; D. P. M. D. Jayawardene c Morton b Powell 3; T. T. Samaraweera c & b Lawson 11; T. M. Dilshan c Smith b Banks 32; W. P. U. J. C. Vaas b Smith 49; G. Wijekoon c Joseph b Best 12; H. M. R. K. B. Herath c Ramdin b Lawson 24; M. Muralitharan b Lawson 36; S. L. Malinga (not out) 5; Extras (lb 6, nb 11) 17; Total 227.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-7, 3-32, 4-47, 5-91, 6-93, 7-113, 8-149, 9-215.

West Indies bowling: Powell 13-4-31-2, Lawson 14.3-3-59-4, Best 11-1-47-1, Banks 16-3-70-2, Deonarine 1-0-9-0, Smith 2-0-5-1.

West Indies — 2nd innings: S. C. Joseph c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 2; X. M. Marshall lbw Vaas 2; R. S. Morton lbw Vaas 0; N. Deonarine lbw Vaas 7; S. Chanderpaul (not out) 48; D. R. Smith lbw Vaas 0; D. Ramdin lbw Muralitharan 11; O. A. C. Banks c Dilshan b Muralitharan 7; D. B. Powell c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 0; T. L. Best st. Sangakkara b Muralitharan 27; J. J. C. Lawson c sub b Muralitharan 0; Extras (b 8, nb 1) 9; Total 113.

Fall of wickets: 1-3, 2-3, 3-15, 4-21, 5-21, 6-48, 7-69, 8-69, 9-113.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 18-9-15-4, Malinga 12-5-22-0, Muralitharan 21-8-36-6, Jayasuriya 6-1-20-0, Herath 3-0-12-0.

Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: S. T. Jayasuriya c Marshall b Lawson 15; M. S. Atapattu c Ramdin b Lawson 28; K. C. Sangakkara c Joseph b Lawson 0; D. P. M. D. Jayawardene (not out) 41; T. T. Samaraweera lbw Lawson 51; T. M. Dilshan (not out) 27; Extras (lb 6, w 2, nb 2) 10; Total (for four wkts.) 172.

Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-34, 3-49, 4-135.

West Indies bowling: Powell 8-0-44-0, Lawson 12-1-43-4, Best 8.3-1-37-0, Banks 7-0-31-0, Smith 3-1-11-0.