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Lankan lions have Bangladesh for breakfast

Prem Panicker | February 14, 2003 19:41 IST

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The last time they were heard from, Bangladesh were giving Jermaine Lawson six wickets for no runs in the space of 15 deliveries.

Against that yardstick, the team certainly showed some improvement in Friday's game against Sri Lanka at the Pietermaritzburg Oval -- they gave Chaminda Vaas only four wickets in six balls, for five runs.

Having said that, the four wickets included a hat-trick, off the first three balls of the innings.

That made Vaas the third -- after Chetan Sharma and Saqlain Mushtaq -- to claim a Cup 'trick, and the first to do it off the first three balls of a game. Bangladesh, to give them their due, then showed some fight to scramble to 124 all out from being four down for five, but it was all too little too late.

Sri Lanka, going into the game, knew what it wanted -- no slip-ups. Thus, Sanath Jayasuriya resisted the temptation to experiment and give his bench some practice. He also resisted the temptation, after calling right at the toss, to take first strike and give his batsmen some practice ahead of tougher tests.

Instead, he opted to go for the jugular by bowling first -- and the results were spectacular. Off the first ball of the game -- a regulation Vaas delivery, angling across the right-hander, then straightening around the line of off -- Hannan Sarkar essayed a flamboyant drive, missed entirely, and was bowled between bat and pad.

In walked Mohammad Ashraful, and out he walked again to the second ball, a delivery identical to the first, to which Ashraful pushed with hard hands, popping a simple return catch.

With what seemed like the entire Lankan side in the slip cordon, Ehsanul Haque allowed nerves and the occasion to overwhelm him. The third ball was angled across and going through with the arm, Haque pushed, got the edge, and Mahela Jayawardene merely paused to cling on before celebrating his role in Vaas's tryst with cricketing history.

Sanuar Hossain clubbed the next ball to the cover boundary, Vaas responded with a wide. The fifth legal delivery of the over was on the line of leg stump and going away when it hit the pad. Vaas appealed more out of adrenalin rush than cricketing merit, and umpire Russell Tiffin put his finger up. Perhaps he had become so conditioned to giving batsmen out, having done so thrice in five balls before that, that he raised his finger reflexively.

In any case, Alok Kapali, the number six, was walking out before the crowd had actually settled, as Bangladesh ended that first over at 5/4.

The Bangladeshi batsmen continued their neck or nothing approach, with Al-Shahriar swinging and occasionally even hitting until a mishit looped to mid-off to give Vaas his fifth wicket.

Followed a spell of sanity, with Kapali and captain Khaled Mashud playing sensibly to add 65. This period also exposed a bit of a worry for the Lankans. Dilhara Fernando was below par in the first game of the Cup, against New Zealand; here, he was merely shabby. Prabhat Nissanka, replacing the injured Pulasthi Gunaratne, didn't do himself any favours either on a track tailormade for seamers to make an impression.

Mashud and Kapali settled down to play the bowling on the little merit it possessed, and rather than throw the bat at everything, selected with care the balls to hit. Kapali was particularly impressive, smashing Fernando over square-leg for a classy six when the bowler pitched short once too often.

Fernando got a wicket he did not deserve, when Kapali finally drove him into Jayasuriya's gut at mid-off. Mohammad Rafiq (6) sat on the splice for almost 10 overs, without ever threatening to give the scorers tennis elbow, before losing his patience and slogging at Muthiah Muralitharan, to get the thick top edge for a looping catch to 'keeper Kumara Sangakkara.

Murali, who never does things by halves, then caught Mashud in front. Mashrafe Mortaza, the Bangladesh opening bowler, then produced a demonstration of cultured slogging to lift the total to 124, before Vaas returned to first intimidate, then dismiss, the tailender.

In reply, the Sri Lankan batting outplayed the minnows with the same methodical mercilessness that Vaas & Co had shown, racing to a ten-wicket victory. The Bangladeshis hit up their 124 in 31.1 overs; the former world champions attained the target in 21.1 overs.

In that sense, the Lankans showed a sense of purpose that some of their subcontinental brethren might benefit from. Marvan Atapattu came into the match on the back of a failure against New Zealand, but gained some valuable batting practice, knocking up 69.

Atapattu is the calming influence in this Sri Lankan side of stroke-makers and how he clicks in the tougher matches later in the tournament will decide how well the Lankans stand up to the pressure of the big matches.

But out here, he donned the mantle of dasher, caressing the boundaries with a slew of delectable drives that stood out as much for their timing as for the style with which he executed them: foot properly in place, head well over the ball, left elbow pointed beautifully up. In pulling and flicking, he was a photographer's model.

In racing to his 50 off just 53 deliveries, Atapattu outscored his grateful captain, although towards the end Jayasuriya couldn't contain himself and unleashed his usual avalanche of breathtaking flicks, ending up with an unbeaten 55.

It is difficult to keep a straight face when a match lasts only half as long as it is supposed to, but the feeling that emerged in the end was that Bangladesh bowled better than they batted, which, admittedly, is not saying much.


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