At the innings break in the men’s world cup match between England and Sri Lanka, if you’d suggested to someone that there was a higher chance of Marvel and DC studios collaborating than Sri Lanka winning, chances are, the response you’d have got would have been a chuckle, followed by a gloomy nod, if the person was supporting Sri Lanka. If it was an England fan, you might have received a boisterous laugh.
Sri Lanka have been beyond poor since the last world cup, but especially in the last two years since the end of the Champions Trophy. They’d had barely beaten Afghanistan, the only team (on form, before yesterday) who looked worse than them. They’d been lucky to have a point each from the abandonments against Pakistan and Bangladesh, and were properly walloped by both New Zealand and Australia. Against Australia, chasing 335, they had the best powerplay I of any team in this year’s tournament. They proceeded to mess it up so badly that by the time the match got to the 40th over, the fairytale start of a couple hours earlier looked like a tale from another century.
Age, fitness, form, tough opposition? Let me handle it all.
England, meanwhile, are the odds-on favourites for the cup. Apart from a hiccup against Pakistan, they’ve shown a remarkable propensity to win with their all-guns-blazing approach in their other games. The depth in their batting, the variety in their bowling, the sheer athletic joy of their fielding, everything seemed to say that it’d be a stroll in the park for them against the Lankans. But, Sri Lanka found a way to tear up the formbook.
Siege mentality is when you think that the whole world is working against you. Sri Lanka’s manager came out last week to basically accuse the ICC of conspiring against them, scheduling their matches on green pitches while other teams got flat pitches. Even commentators got in the act.
Before the tournament started, England captain Eoin Morgan, with a straight face, mentioned Sri Lanka as dark horses for the cup, because they’ve picked 10 unknowns in their squad, he said. To add to this, senior Lankan players were struggling to lead the way. Angelo Mathews, their middle-order rock, had found that career earthquakes driven by injury and board politics could lead even the best of batsmen with a world cup performance that looked more like an octal number than a top-order batsman’s run tally.
Didn’t see that coming.
The format of the 2019 World Cup received criticism in some quarters, as it was deemed that by reducing the number of teams to 10, and opting for a round robin format, cricket and the ICC were being elitist. Surely there’s space for growth in a world cup? The reasoning of the ICC was that this format would allow tighter and more evenly-matched games. That that hadn’t happened is evident from the fact that before yesterday’s match, India, the team in fourth place, were on 6 points, one more than Bangladesh in fifth, but with two matches in hand. The gulf in points stood out like a zebra in a stable of horses trying to cross the Thar desert.
The quirky thing about Sri Lanka’s win is that it now has opened up a scenario where pre-tournament favourites England might not even qualify for the semis, if they fail to win their next three games. This tweet sheds some light:
So far, only Bangladesh had been keeping up the fight to make the league stage interesting. That this match has served a purpose for the greater good of the tournament would not be an overstatement.
Malinga – The Undying Star
After Sri Lanka’s opening match defeat against New Zealand, Lasith Malinga said that Lankan players need to feel the pain of defeat, in order to pick themselves up. Against England, at one point, it seemed that only he stood between them and victory. He’s taken the first two, and four of the first five wickets. This is not to overlook the sheer pressure that Nuwan Pradeep and Lahiru Udana were creating with their tight spells. But, as England showed against Afghanistan in their previous match, you can keep bowling dry against them, but if you don’t pick wickets at regular intervals, they will punish you. It looked like Malinga’s old-wine-getting-better-with-time act was the only offering at the party, until Dhananjaya de Silva ambled in with his non-turning offbreaks, the Vodka Martinis of the day, leaving England on the rocks, metaphorically at least.
Three Vodka Martinis, please.
Ben Stokes was dropped at deep midwicket off the second last ball of Malinga’s spell. The bowler slumped to his knees. After his spell finished, he took his jumper from the umpire and stood with his hands on his waist, for a second, looking towards the midwicket region. In that brief moment, in that hurt, it was possible that he felt he probably needed to grow wings and fly with the ball to take the catch. You could feel Sri Lankan hopes dying, even though they only needed one more wicket, one good ball.
Malinga didn’t grow wings, but Nuwan Pradeep, eleven balls later, found the perfect fizzler, getting a scrambled-seam delivery to hold its line outside off and take the edge of Mark Wood’s bat. Time to pop the sherry! Malinga’s efforts would not be wasted.
The winning moment.
In spite of the heroicism of Ben Stokes’ lone hand, and Angelo Mathews’ me-against-the-world doggedness, the day belonged to Lasith Malinga, the star that kept burning bright, staving off the black hole that is Father Time.
Do share your thoughts on this post and the match in the comments section.
All images courtesy: Twitter.
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