ONE: Sidarth Monga: “Mendis’ pragmatism helps wounded Sri Lanka survive banana-peel beginning,” ESPNcricinfo, 20 October 2022
They’ve battled injuries and unexpectedly slow pitches, but they’ve scrapped their way into the Super 12s
As far as banana peels go, Sri Lanka found themselves on a big one, which in turn was placed on an oily surface. Playing the first round of the 2022 T20 World Cup, after coming in as Asia Cup champions, they struggled to adjust to a slow, two-paced Geelong pitch and ended up paying for it with a defeat to Namibia. Add to it a soft outfield that can leave you vulnerable to injuries.
Maheesh Theekshana feels the risk of injuries is high on this ground. “Even when we’re batting, we can see how the ball is not going to the boundaries; the ball stops early,” he said. “There’s a lot of tension on the body. That’s why there are more injuries.”
Then, on the day after their defeat against Namibia, Sri Lanka saw a forecast for rain on Thursday, the final day of the first round, which left them even more anxious. And these are not conditions where you can blast away an opposition. You have to swallow your pride a little.
Sri Lanka fell back on conservative, unsexy cricket to get back on their feet. Their first win, against UAE, was centred on Nissanka’s 74 at a strike rate of 123.33. In their next game, Kusal Mendis went at a run a ball for his first 17 balls against Netherlands. Just what you are taught not to do in T20 cricket. But they knew they couldn’t make the conditions bend to their will.
“When we saw the pitch, I didn’t think it would be that slow in the morning,” Mendis said. “It’s very slow, and the spinners turned the ball. You can’t get to your normal game. Even if you jump out of the crease, it’s a bit slow. So we had to bat normally for 10 or 12 overs. Because we did that, we were able to score heavily in the last five.
“[It’s] a little bit different here. In Australia, you come expecting bounce and pace. Here you have to play your normal game in the first six overs. Then we can hit out in the last ten overs. In the first game, we struggled. The wicket was slow. We didn’t know how to play on this pitch. The second and third game, I knew how to play here.”
Often in T20s, not taking risks is the risk. Mendis was willing to take that risk. The pitch was perhaps slightly better than in the first two matches. Once he realised the slower ones were not gripping as much, Mendis played with the ground dimensions: short square boundaries and a long hit down the ground.
Mendis managed to hit 23 balls between fine leg and midwicket, which brought him 62 of his 79 runs, including all five sixes. This points to a few loose balls especially as some of the slower ones didn’t grip. But it also points to ruthless execution and upscaling of his ambition as he went along.
Sri Lanka didn’t quite avoid the banana peel but have managed to get back up. It has taken a heavy toll, but there’s no time to lick their wounds. They will have to regroup quickly, adjust to real Australian tracks, and keep finding answers and replacements as they go along.
TWO: Andrw Fidel Fernando: “Mendis’ 79, spinners steer Sri Lanka into Super 12s,” ESPNcricinfo, 20 October 2022
Sri Lanka rode on Kusal Mendis‘ outstanding 79 off 44 to reach 162 for 6 on a sluggish surface, before their spinners cut Netherlands down – Wanindu Hasaranga getting into fine wicket-taking form ahead of the main draw of the tournament.
Although Netherlands were never really ahead of the game, opener Max O’Dowd kept them in the hunt for the duration, getting the requirement for the last over down to 23, following Maheesh Theekshana‘s wayward 19th, which cost 16 runs.
But seamer Lahiru Kumara held his nerve in the final burst, and Sri Lanka secured a 16-run win, and a place in the next round. Which group they end up in will depend on the results of the evening match between Namibia and UAE.
Netherlands will watch that match with particular interest. They need UAE to beat Namibia to get into the next round. The net run rates do not matter – only the result.
Mendis feasts on Netherlands’ leg-side offerings
On a pitch that did not allow batters to hit cleanly through the line, and on a ground where the square boundaries are significantly shorter than the straight ones, you probably shouldn’t bowl at leg stump. You especially shouldn’t stray down leg if the batter is Kusal Mendis – an excellent hitter to that side.
Mendis got his first boundary via a miscued heave over midwicket in the third over, and he kept finding the ropes in that arc between cow corner and fine leg. He hit each of his five sixes over this region, pulling, slog sweeping, and in the 12th over, wristily flicking Timm van der Gugten into the stands beyond fine leg. He hit five fours too, only two of them on the off side. Sixty-four of his 79 came on the leg side.
Through the course of this knock, which went right into the 20th over, Mendis forged several good partnerships, the most fruitful of which was the 60 off 45 alongside Charith Asalanka, whose contribution was 31 off 30. Mendis’ innings meant Sri Lanka made an above-par score on a difficult track.
Hasaranga decks Netherlands’ middle order
Sri Lanka were already in control before Hasaranga came to the bowling crease, having kept Netherlands to 40 for 2 in the powerplay. But although he conceded seven runs off his first two balls, Hasaranga was quickly among the wickets. He had Colin Ackerman caught and bowled off the leading edge third ball, after the batter failed to adequately play Hasaranga’s googly. Van der Gugten and Fred Klaassen were also bowled by the googly, later in the innings, giving Hasaranga 3 for 28 from his four overs.
O’Dowd makes a game of it
With Theekshana also getting wickets, and Sri Lanka fielding well, it did not seem like Netherlands had the measure of their target. O’Dowd did his best to defy the opposition, however, hitting 71 not out off 53 balls.
He wasn’t particularly proactive in the first ten overs, hitting just 23 off 21 with two fours. As wickets fell around him in the middle overs, he remained happy to play a measured innings. In fact, at the end of the 17th over, O’Dowd was still 38 off 35 balls, with only three boundaries to his name. Netherlands needed 54 off 18, and had only two wickets left.
And yet, O’Dowd, with the help of some Sri Lanka indiscipline, made half a game of it. He hit a six and two fours off successive deliveries from Binura Fernando to reap 15 in the 18th over and then bashed Theekshana for two sixes (one off a no-ball) next over to keep victory within their reach. Theekshana helped out by bowling three extras in a row at the start of this over.
But 23 off Kumara, in the company of a hobbling Roelof van der Merwe (who came in at No. 11), proved too much. O’Dowd managed one four over backward point, but only six came off that over.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.