Tharanga does himself proud

It was a FORGETTABLE MATCH for everyone, except perhaps for Upul Tharanga, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

Every international match is a lesson for Bangladesh, and it was no different at the PCA Stadium in Mohali even though it suffered yet another defeat when playing a top-notch side. It all looked so predictable — the result, the start of the Champions Trophy and the spectator response to the tournament.

It can aptly be dismissed as a most forgettable encounter, but one individual, Upul Tharanga, would strongly disagree. He would cherish the afternoon that fetched him his fifth century in 30 matches, a record in One-day Internationals.

The venue lacked cricketing atmosphere. It had to do with the mismatch that was Sri Lanka versus a side that is clearly caught in a transition period. The flow of talent has not kept pace with the demands as seniors have found the going tough, leaving Bangladesh chasing unfulfilled dreams.

"We managed to give a fight," said the modest Bangladesh skipper Habibul Bashar. He had promised a fight on the eve of the competition, but his side failed to stand up to the Sri Lankans who were bent on making the most of the qualifying contest.

The Sri Lankans had their plans in place. "We wanted each player to get a decent outing and prepare for the bigger matches ahead," remarked Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene. The young, talented opener, Tharanga, warmed up for the tournament with a neat century that put him in a special category. It was just the way to shed the rustiness that had caused some concern to coach Tom Moody in the run-up to the Champions Trophy.

The match was preceded by controversy when the Punjab Cricket Association demanded that the International Cricket Council bear the organisational expenses of the match. "Why should we suffer losses for organising a match which would swell the coffers of the ICC? We have had to dismantle eight corporate boxes to meet the demands of the ICC," said the PCA President, Mr. I. S. Bindra.

Was there a threat to the match? "Not this one but we would not want to host any more matches if the ICC does not agree to our terms," insisted Mr. Bindra.

Well, the clouds of uncertainty disappeared with the two captains walking out to toss, and cricket took the centre-stage again. The Champions Trophy, true to its reputation, had encountered controversy even before a ball had been bowled. It was left to `Man of the Match' Tharanga and his crafty batting to entertain the small audience who turned up on a sultry afternoon.

Tharanga belongs to the new breed of Sri Lankans, who have the huge responsibility of replacing some of the seniors. This left-hander, who suffered during the tsunami, took things in his stride and recovered with active support from teammate Kumara Sangakkara. Gradually he cemented his place in the team and none was happier than Sanath Jayasuriya, on whose game Tharanga has modelled his batting.

Rated high by Jayasuriya, the aggressive Tharanga, who enjoyed his partnership with Marvan Attapattu the most in the middle overs, has emerged as one of the most trusted and consistent performers for Sri Lanka. "He has the potential to serve the team long," said Jayawardene about the youngster.

Bangladesh may have surprised many by opting to field but the Sri Lankans were not complaining. "We would have liked to bat first because we like to challenge ourselves. It was a good wicket to bat on. I think it is always better to set a target when you play against teams like Bangladesh," Jayawardene revealed the positive side of his team's tactics.

A target of 303 was always beyond Bangladesh's reach, but the 19-year-old Saqibul Hasan chose the right platform to compile his first half-century.

The Bangladesh batting lacked direction and it was a mere formality as Sri Lanka went about its job as methodically as it was expected to, winning the match by 37 runs.

"It was an important match for us but I don't think we played our `A' game today. We didn't play a smart game, particularly in the second half of the Bangladesh innings. But it is quite understandable as we are playing competitive cricket after some time," noted Jayawardene.

The Sri Lankan team management was not at all pleased by the fact that too many extras were conceded. "We conceded a lot of extras, but otherwise I am quite satisfied with our performance today. We try to set high standards for ourselves," Jayawardene said, bringing the curtain down on a mediocre contest.

THE SCORES

ICC Champions Trophy, Qualifying match, Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka, Mohali, October 7, 2006. Sri Lanka won by 37 runs.

Sri Lanka 302 for eight in 50 overs (U. Tharanga 105, S. Jayasuriya 31, M. Jayawardene 35, M. Atapattu 40, T. Dilshan 26) bt Bangladesh 265 for nine in 50 overs (Aftab Ahmed 33, Saqibul Hasan 69 not out, Farhad Reza 34, Mashrafe Mortaza 30, F. Maharoof three for 47).