Tag Archives: lankans

the pearl and the bank clerk defeat england

Sri Lanka’s GDP ranking in 2013 was 112, the UK were 21. They have a very small population compared to the other subcontinent cricket nations. Transparency International ranks them as the 91st least-corrupt nation on earth. They have only one really big modern city. Their cricket is mismanaged by selfish inept politicians. The team is signed off by the government. They don’t always pay their cricketers.

But this year they have beaten the world. And now they’ve beaten England with men who have lost their houses in tsunamis, been shot at by terrorists, competition winners and a tubby man who works at a bank.

Sri Lanka is a special place.

At the Sampath Bank headquarters in Colombo there is a round-faced man smiling happily wearing a polo shirt with the bank’s logo on it. He is being felicitated. He is a finger-spinning maestro. He is a World T20 winner. And this man, Rangana Herath, is also an employee at the bank.

Not in a ceremonial way. Not just to beef up their cricket team. But Herath works at the bank. Doing things that people do in banks. He probably has his own coffee mug there. When Herath sees the Sri Lanka cricket schedule, one of his first calls is to his bank manager. To ask for leave to travel to the tour.

Herath worked there when he made his comeback to Test cricket in 2009. Herath worked there this while he took more Test wickets than any other bowler in 2012. Herath worked there even while he was ranked the second-best Test bowler on earth.

Twenty-four days before his felicitation, Herath took 1-23 in four overs. Sri Lanka won the World T20 that day.

Sri Lanka Cricket is currently in debt. An exact amount is unknown. It was at one stage supposed to be US$70m. That is to pay for new stadiums that replaced the old stadiums that were in some cases not that old. This led them to not pay their players.

According to Forbes, MS Dhoni was worth US$30m last year. He captained the side that Sri Lanka beat in the World T20 final. In sport, money does buy wins. Internationally, less so. But Sri Lanka are playing cricket off the field in a way that the other countries haven’t done for decades. Their support staff is understaffed, undertrained, and at times seemingly not able to do their own research. They rely on the touring journalists for a lot that cricket board staff would usually do. They are comically unprofessional.

This is the first Test series that Sri Lanka had sent players over early to properly acclimatise before the tour. Herath and Shaminda Eranga both came over. It was a step towards professionalism in a sport that has been professional for years.

North of Colombo there is a town called Chilaw. There is an ancient Hindu temple in Chilaw that was once visited by Gandhi. Every year they have the Munneswaram festival. It was once famous for pearls. And they have a first-class cricket team the Chilaw Marians Cricket Club.

Shaminda Eranga comes from Chilaw.

Like many in Sri Lanka, the cricketers from Chilaw are largely invisible inside the system. There are Test-quality cricketers playing on the streets of the Hikkaduwa right now that will never play with a hard cricket ball in their life.

Eranga was not playing first-class cricket. He was not in the system. He shouldn’t have made it at all. But like his seam-bowling partner Nuwan Pradeep, he made his way to a fast-bowling competition. He bowled fast. But five guys bowled faster. Somehow the sixth-fastest bowler in that completion was picked for Chilaw Marians Cricket Club. Five years later he would clean bowl Brad Haddin with his second ball in international cricket.

Eranga is the closest thing Chilaw has produced to a pearl in a very long time.

Herath has been in Test cricket since 1999. He invented a carom ball. He disappeared back into first-class cricket and the bank, and was in club cricket in England when he was picked for his comeback.

There are no billboards in Sri Lanka with his face on them. He’s not famous like Kumar, Mahela, Lasith or Angelo. Even Ajantha Mendis is sponsored by chicken sausages. Herath may be a Test bowler with over 200 wickets who has carried a poor attack for years, but he’s just a really good player, not a star or legend.

Against Stuart Broad, Herath had bowled around the wicket with a low arm action. Broad takes a big step forward when he defends spinners. Herath bowled the ball exactly from the right angle, with the right amount of turn, to ensure that Broad would miss one.

Against James Anderson, he bowled over the wicket with a high arm action. Anderson gets right over the ball when it’s full, and can dangle his bat when it’s slightly shorter. Herath was trying to find either of these two dismissals.

Broad missed his, Anderson survived.

Eranga spent most of the first innings not getting anywhere. There was some swing, but not enough. He bowled a great line and length to Sam Robson, but couldn’t get the edge. England just moved further and further away with the game. Even the second new ball did nothing for him. Sri Lanka were all but gone. But then they got the wicket of Ian Bell. It was Eranga’s wicket. He added Moeen Ali’s wicket to it. The next morning he had Chris Jordan and Anderson as well. They were still behind, but they were within some kind of touch.

In the second innings, Eranga bowled the worst he had in the series. At Lord’s he was the pick of the bowling, in the first innings at Headingley he inspired the comeback. But when his team really needed him to help win the game in this innings, he couldn’t get it right. He lost his line and length. He didn’t make people play. He was too short. The only time he looked good was when he just tried to knock Joe Root’s mouth off. That didn’t work either. Then when he took a wicket, that of Jordan, he also overstepped.

Eranga’s first 23.4 overs were just not great.

It was probably mostly luck that he received the last over. Dhammika Prasad had bowled the second last over. Herath could not outfox Anderson. Pradeep looked spent. And Angelo Mathews had lost his first innings magic.

Eranga was just the man who was left.

Sri Lanka feel like they don’t get the credit they deserve. They feel that when they win, it is Yuvraj’s (or whoever else that game) fault. Or the home conditions helped them. Or the other team was just useless. On Monday at Headingley, they started one of the great comebacks in modern Test cricket. Their captain played one of the great knocks of modern Test cricket. They were on the verge of their first ever series win in England. Their first major series win outside Asia for almost 20 years.

And the next day the cricket world talked about the other captain who had a shocker.

Before the tour they lost their coach to the opposition. While here they have been accused of breaking the spirit of cricket. Their spinner was accused of breaking the laws of cricket. Their bowlers were pop gun and a glorified county attack. Their batmen were suspect against the moving and short ball. They would be bombed by the short ball. They were sent in to be annihilated here. They felt under siege.

At Lord’s it got even worse when Broad and Anderson attacked them with the ball, and the English players, lead by the extremely mouthy Root, came at them very hard. Pradeep was almost beheaded. After that they were upset by Cook’s comments about Sachithra Senanayake’s action. And England had dominated them for eight straight days of cricket.

They were sick and tired of being plucky cheerful losers. They wanted a win. They saw one. And they became very vocal. Root’s ears will be ringing from his entire innings. Broad’s unscheduled toilet break 20 minutes into his innings probably got more of the same.

This is not the strongest team Sri Lanka have brought to England. They’ve had Murali, Dilshan, Jayasuriya and Vaas to bring before. This team has two all-time greats, one potential great, and the second-best spinner they have ever had.

It also has Nuwan Pradeep and his bowling average of 72.78. It has Dimuth Karunaratne, who is immune to going out early, or making runs from his starts. Lahiru Thirimanne, who stopped believing runs existed. And Prasanna Jayawardene, who looked a spent force with bat and gloves.

Mahela Jayawardene never made a hundred. Herath never took a five-for. Nuwan Kulasekera was dropped after the first Test. But people kept stepping up. They had batted an entire fifth day to save an overseas Test only once before. But they all chipped in and did it with one of the worst batsmen in world cricket somehow surviving. Their bowling could never compete with England’s, so their fielders took many more of their chances. Their middle order slipped up in the third innings at Headingley, so their tail made runs.

It was gritty, tough, bits-and-pieces cricket that mostly was just keeping them in touch of England, nothing more. They just refused to be beaten. They just refused to go away. They didn’t smile, or play nice. They clawed and screamed.

On paper this Sri Lanka should never beat England. They should have been outgunned in almost every way. In preparation. Financial. Backroom. Coaching. Facilities. And even in the players who were involved. Virtually every single thing about England should have been better than Sri Lanka.

Anderson was playing for England by the time he was 21. He’s the embodiment of a professional cricketer. You can see his face on the back of buses in London. He has won games with the ball all round the world. He’s saved games with the bat. Today he faced 54 balls with the knowledge that any mistake and his team would lose a Test, a series, become a joke. Yet he played almost every ball well. Stoically. Until Sri Lanka very nearly gave up.

On the 55th ball, a world-class professional sportsman was bounced by the sixth-fastest bowler from the North Western Province and caught by a chubby slow guy from Kurunegala.

The pearl and the bank clerk. Sri Lanka is a special place.

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When a competition winner saved a Test for his country – Pradeep’s last hour

There are nine fielders out on the ground but they are casting 36 shadows. For a side trying to bat out 90 overs away from home, which they rarely do, the lights taking effect mean they are playing against past ghosts, current shadows and an England team that’s making the ball swing. It seems like there isn’t a single gap on the infield that doesn’t have a fielder covering it. The leg side has more bodies than blades of grass. All hands on knees, waiting for a mistake.

There is one hour, 15 overs and four wickets left to fall before Nuwan Pradeep has to bat.

Sri Lanka spend the start of the last hour against Liam Plunkett, safe in their mind that their captain looks made of granite and their keeper is still there. The ball is reversing, the odd one keeping low, it is dark and England believe they can do it. Every shot now seems near a fielder. Prasanna Jayawardene is leg glancing too close to leg slip. Jordan hits him on the arm guard as well. Then he almost gloves another, and then back to leg slip.

At the other end, Angelo Mathews is enjoying a bit of respite against Joe Root. In years to come, not even Root will believe he bowled an over in this hour.

Meanwhile, at the real end, Jayawardene misses a full and straight ball that must have been near invisible, as it seems Billy Bowden also missed it. It takes all of one replay to convince every single living entity that it’s plumb.

It is now three wickets until England get to Nuwan Pradeep. The man who had never played with a leather cricket ball until he was in his 20s.

Nuwan Kulasekara is in. Remember that Champions Trophy match where he came in and smashed England everywhere like Sobers was operating his body? Well, if you saw him come out here, you would not have know it was the same guy. He has two modes: superfly-pimp-daddy smasher; and nervous tailender-in-the-way. He picked the wrong mode.

Anderson is bowling balls that seem to be swinging left, right, up, down and through parallel dimensions. Mathews comes down and suggest his man gets off strike. Kulasekara does but, in the next over, he seems to play the ball almost a full second late, down a line that never existed and his back foot kicks around randomly at the end for no good reason. He looks back at the pitch before he walks off, no one will ever know why. Stuart Broad is clearly not fit now but he takes Kulasekara’s wicket at the end his captain sent him too.

Nuwan Pradeep now has two wickets between him and his destiny. One that started when he won a reality TV contest for bowling with a tennis ball faster than anyone else. When Chaminda Vaas took over the bowling group, he introduced Pradeep to chicken and beef to try get some body on the bowler.

Rangana Herath has spent the whole match doing the breast-stroke through treacle, such is his pace, but is now trying to get off strike when Usain Bolt wouldn’t try to run.

Mathews flicks a ball off his hip where there is no one out, he walks down the wicket. Herath, now full of energy and speed, jogs past him but the ball goes all the way to the boundary before stopping just short, Mathews is mid-pitch waiting to see which end he should head too. It’s that time when ends completely take over from runs.

Mathews has clearly decided on Anderson’s end and doesn’t take an obvious single off the fourth ball. Root wanders in to chat to Mathews. Root tries his best to annoy, distract or unsettle, Mathews. Root wanders back out not having caught Mathews’ attention. Seconds later Alastair Cook is clutching at one around his groin and Mathews is gone. Sri Lanka have lost their most composed player in a crisis. The man who has saved them so many times before. The closest thing Sri Lanka has to a superhero is walking off the ground.

If you replaced Nuwan Pradeep with a puppy in the field, it wouldn’t cause much more damage. While he is naturally athletic, quick and looks like he belongs, he seems to read the ball like its Baudelaire in translation. This was at its absolute worst when he seemed to misjudge a hook shot so badly it bounced almost 15 metres in from the boundary, but still behind him. There is now only one wicket between him and the middle.

Herath is now the senior batsman, a fact of pure fear for any Sri Lankan still hoping for a draw. Herath’s batting is often quality entertainment, but not always quality. He took the Murali mantle seriously and also thought that swinging his bat wildly was the way to go. That’s not really possible when Plunkett is trying to remove your throat and a ball flies at Herath and he does all he can do by missing it. The ball was like the spook in the horror film that turns out to be the cat.

Eventually Herath pushes one away from the fielders, Shaminda Eranga starts to set off but it’s clear no real plan about running, or even which batsman will face which bowler, has been made. Herath just stands there, doesn’t even seem to call. Root is in at silly point; it’s always good to have someone like Root at silly point, not for the catch, but for the endless chat. Herath only gets a rest when the field and plans change.

His batting partner at the other end is no better. Eranga has a first-class hundred at the SSC, but doesn’t everyone? Straight balls are defended with the sort of angled face that results in genius short-leg catches from straight balls. A nation tells him to play straight. But somehow he gets it past Sam Robson, the man crouched under the helmet.

There are six balls left. They have made a mess of the last hour but they have two wickets left. Or one, if you don’t count Pradeep.

Broad is brought back, he looks injured but it’s only one over, and no one else can real bowl. The fielders line up behind Herath, or near enough to smell his fear. Broad goes wide around the wicket and fires it in short at Herath, he jumps out of the way but the ball takes his glove, he walks while England appeal. No one checks Broad on what looked very close to a back-foot no ball (it’s not). No one also notices, Herath included, that his glove was off his bat. That is until the many, many replays come up on the screen. He walked for a not out.

Now out comes a man with a two-and-half line Wikipedia entry, uncoached action, often-untucked shirt, a homemade haircut reminiscent of a member of the band Poison and a Test bowling average of 72.83. On the scoreboard they call him Fernando, everywhere else he’s called Pradeep. He seems to have walked into this situation by accident. They don’t even know his name and he’s walking out to save his country against the oldest enemy.

Pradeep is marinated by Broad first ball with a bouncer that is only there to get him where he needs him. Pradeep is little more than a piece of meat in front of the stumps. Four balls left.

Next delivery is short of a length, quick and moves away, Pradeep should be given a medal for even getting that close. Three balls left.

He middles the next one, as much as he could ever middle a ball. Suddenly he’s a batsman.

But the next one is too fast, too straight and it’s not for the likes of him. He’s instantly given out, but he reviews it before Paul Reiffel has fully given it. So does the Eranga at the non-striker’s, and perhaps every single Sri Lankan alive. England are celebrating at deep point, TMS have already tweeted the victory. But somehow Reiffel missed the huge chunk of wood hitting the ball. Nuwan Pradeep has one ball to face.

In the first innings, Pradeep faced a short ball that he clearly didn’t see. His face started to turn and his bat wafted in general self-defence, the ball smashed into his shoulder, this twisted and crashed his whole body that was now falling uncontrollably and ended with him smashing the stumps with his bat. It was embarrassing, viral and he would never ever live it down.

One more ball.

Nuwan Pradeep, or Fernando, the competition winner, leans forward with absolutely no certainty at all. It’s quick and straight from Broad. The ball takes the edge, and goes straight for second slip, Chris Jordan, England’s best slipper. It’s quick and low, like a plane flying under radar, and Jordan picks it up as clean as you can in the slips.

On the half volley.

Eranga clutches at the air, Pradeep, still in the pose of the shot, looks around confused. He’s not even sure if it has been caught. England are silent. He has done it. He saved them by inches. He survived the five toughest balls of his life.

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cricket’s greatest bromance – kumar and mahela

A man turns to his mates, clenching his fists and showing his guns in the successful warrior pose. His mate runs up and jumps on him, half hugging, half choking as he climbs up his back. Then the successful warrior walks towards his group of friends to acknowledge their existence. His mate stands behind him behaving erratically and smiling uncontrollably.

Kumar Sangakkara has made a Test century. Mahela Jayawardene is happy for him.

The ball is full and perhaps hinting at moving away. Jayawardene lazily moves into position and wafts at the ball. It is almost the perfect get out shot, except he is so inept he misses the ball. His foot isn’t planted until Matt Prior is about to collect the ball. For a second, Jayawardene loses his grace, the way he makes the ball look slower than it actually is, and goes into dreamland looking for the easy drive. Mahela looks up at Kumar and laughs, Kumar smiles back.

On the balcony at Sugar bar in Colombo, nursing an arrack and coke with a friend, we realised that behind us were Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. My friend knew them, and whispered to me, “Mahela will come over, and be excited to see me here. Kumar will wave from a distance. You have to earn it a bit more with him.”

Two minutes later Mahela came over and was excited to see his friend. Twenty minutes later, Kumar waved through the crowd.

The field is set for a leg-theory examination of Jayawardene. He pulls the first one away without much thought for the field at all. It’s easy and natural, like he’s playing against a kid, not a fired up new era English bowler trying to prove himself. He looks right at home.

Sangakkara faces the same short-bowling leg set-up. A short ball is fired in at him and takes him on the body as he tries to pull. He walks away and rubs himself. He looks angry rather than in pain. The next ball is just as fast, and just as well aimed, this time Sangakkara pulls it away off the middle of the bat between the two fielders set to stop it.

Sangakkara has been in the country for longer than his team. Playing in Durham, acclimatising, working on his game, doing what he has done since a child. Improving and working. He wasn’t the high school superstar Jayawardene was. Sangakkara is what he is as much because of how hard he works, how much he wants it as much as how well he times it. He probably dreams of throw downs and plans for planning.

His place in cricket history is pretty much assured, but England is somewhere that travelling cricketers want to really conquer. Lord’s even more so. And that is what this innings was about. Helping his team is a given, but helping his team at the place they call the “home of cricket”, that’s something else. Especially at a place he is largely revered for speaking at, after his MCC Spirit of Cricket lecture in 2011. Many people have been eloquent at Lord’s, fewer have added 147 in a Test and stencilled their way into history as well.

Sangakkara has placed the ball perfectly to short fine leg and wants three, he charges up and down the wicket. But Jayawardene turns down the third. Sangakkara holds his hands up and asks why? Mahela points to his knee. Kumar shakes his head in disappointment.

Take out the cricket and replace it with a common household chore and it’s almost every argument you see between couples the world over.

Mark Waugh was born playing an effortless flick to backward square leg. Steve Waugh had to wait until he could walk before he first dropped the ball on the leg side and stole a single. Their styles of play complemented each other perfectly. One was hard and smart, the other pretty and effortless. One statistically superior, the other naturally better.

Despite sharing a womb, house and many changerooms, you’d be hard pressed to say they are closer than Kumar and Mahela.

At a sponsor event, Sangakkara was asked to look like he was dressing Jayawardene, for the sort of standard embarrassing athlete photo opportunity. What was already awkward enough was made more so by the fact that people already question how close they are. If cricket had an erotic fiction genre, Kumar and Mahela would have many chapters together.

Sri Lanka is already awash with them as a pair. Want to be as happy as Kumar and Mahela are, drink a Coke and share in their good times. Want to look as smart as they do, get some Emerald suits and you too can look this sharp. Want a great-tasting crab meal, eat at the Mahela and Kumar’s restaurant, the Ministry of Crab, and wear the same bibs they wear.

After taking a break from playing drives so good they make you feel like you’ve just stroked an angora rabbit wearing a velvet glove, Jayawardene batted for lunch. England decided to try one more time at banging away with Plunkett around the wicket. This time Jayawardene was in lunch mode and he just didn’t look right. One sprung up at him, another jagged back, and just for a second he looked rattled. Like the game had been sped up to the pace everyone else had to play it at.

Sangakkara wandered down the wicket slowly, had a quick word, and wandered back. Jayawardene played the next two balls like they were throw downs in the nets. Sangakkara waited for him at the non-striker’s end, then they walked off together.

The cricket public perception of the two is often quite clear. Jayawardene is seen as the cherub-faced batting wizard, often smiling and happy to be doing what he does. Sangakkara is seen as a modern-day cricket intellectual of impeccable morals who will one day be the spirit of cricket’s professor emeritus.

It’s not really true; Jayawardene can get as angry as Ricky Ponting on a bad day. And it’s quick, Hulk quick, often reacting with anger before he has even fully grasped what has happened. The cherub face is replaced with this snarling beast. Yelling is done, handshakes are ignored, and he lets everyone in the area know exactly how he feels.

Sangakkara is so smart and eloquent that he has managed to cultivate a statesman role when, in truth, he is a hard-ass, son-of-a-bitch cricketer who would be just as likely to psychologically destroy you as talk about the great cultural mix in world cricket. Recently he tricked Ahmed Shehzad into thinking a throw was coming in so he could make Shehzad dive to save himself. In actual fact the throw was miles away. Shehzad hurt himself, Sangakkara laughed. His sledging of Shaun Pollock at the 2003 World Cup is still one of the greatest monologues recorded from a pitch. And perhaps even better than his spirit of cricket lecture.

The cherub-and-gentleman vibe is nowhere near accurate and actually sells them short of what they really are: fierce, determined, passionate cricketers who want to win.

The next over after Kumar’s hundred, Mahela brings up his fifty. They meet mid-pitch and give each other an emotional soul-brother handshake.

Mahela Jayawardene has made a Test half-century. Kumar Sangakkara is happy for him.

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Herath the Hero

Not enough comic books have superheroes who are old, short, pudgy with a bad marine haircut, soft round face and pants slightly too high on the waist.

But they should. And if they did, they could easily use Rangana Herath as their inspiration even though bowling SLA is not an obvious heroic endeavor.

From a distance Herath probably looks more like a dad watching his kid play than 2012’s leading Test wicket taker. Perhaps it’s even that that helps him. It’s hard to fear a man when he looks like he should be wearing a Cosby sweater and driving a comfortable second hand station wagon.

60 wickets from 10 matches should have people writing about you as a golden god, I mean seven five wicket hauls in one year, wow, they should be building statues and changing the pictures on the money in Sri Lanka.

Instead Herath’s heroics are seen mostly as a bowler dominating at home. 54 wickets in his seven Tests in Sri Lanka. Yet, Michael Clarke didn’t make a hundred away from home this year either. And while his exploits were far grander than Herath’s, Clarke has been hyped since he was a teen, Herath has played Tests since 1999 without anyone taking much notice.

Much of that time Herath was the back up to Murali, a decent job, but one with limited exposure. Murali was machinelike, and often two spinners at once, so there was often little need for Herath.

Now that he is almost the entire bowling attack for Sri Lanka, he essentially is Murali. But he’s different as well.

Murali wore batsmen down with spin, boucne and relentlessness, Herath is a proper artist. His spell at the MCG to Clarke and Watson was as good and fruitless a spell a finger spinner can have in Australia.

At times it was like he had Shane Watson’s powerful leg on a string, and would move it exactly where he needed it to cause the most amount of anxiousness to Watson. Each floaty ball was a grenade that seemingly gave Watson nightmares as it bounced near him. In real life, Watson would use Herath as a stress ball.

Even Clarke, who is in the sort of form that leads Charlton Heston to play you in a movie, was put through the works with Herath’s fielding positions. Like a serial killer with a moral to teach, Herath put his onside field together in a way that would cause Clarke the absolute most damage mentally. From the outside it looked like a bowler that would make most club cricketers believe they could survive an over of Test Cricket bowling to the world’s form batsman. But if you watched it closely Herath had found a weakness in Clarke, and was willing to wait all day for him to slip up.

Every ball Herath delivers is linked to another one, it’s not a delivery, its part of an overall plan. Is game within a game with Clarke seems to be building with every innings. The more accumalted wisdom he gets, the harder it is for Clarke to handle him. Herath is a throw back to the old kind of spinners, sure he has a ball that goes the other way, but his talent isn’t in magical balls or stunning deliveries, it’s in hours of hard work and the incredibly clever brain of a master spinner.

It looks easy from afar, and it’s not as sexy as a 150k Yorker, but the fact that someone like Herath is not only in Test cricket, but can play it at this level shows the amazing talent he has in his extremely mortal frame.

Herath had Watson and Clarke dropped. Not even including the time he should have had Clarke stumped if not for a flick of Clarke’s lucky pad. Those two wickets could have changed the entire Test for Sri Lanka, perhaps even the series with Herath having an SCG Test strip next.

Instead Herath’s masterful display ended with him losing the Test, the series and no wickets the last time he bowled in 2012. His only victory was a catch that seemed mostly accidental and all the more awesome because it was him who took it.
Herath didn’t become the leading Test wicket taker in 2012 because of dodgy local tracks. He did it based on a lifetime of spinner’s knowledge, battle weary fingers and the art of subtle deception. The man works hard for every wickets he gets, and does it all without the gift of height or general athletic prowess.

In 2012 Herath was a hero. Even his final deed of 0/95 was heroic, even if it was in vain.

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Sri Lanka, Zindabad

There was a time during the India South Africa game where I really suspected that  someone was making South African flags out the back of the Prema and selling them for a few rupees.  At first they weren’t there, and then suddenly one whole stand was holding up the South African colours.  The Pakistani fans were the ones holding the flags, as most of the South African fans had gone home.

During the India Pakistan game it appeared like 4 out of 5 Sri Lankans at the game had adopted Pakistan as their home team.  Thousands of fans had Sri Lankan shirts on and were waving Pakistan flags or had their face painted with the Pakistani flag on it.  They were as Pakistani as you could get, for just the three hours.

It’s been one of the highlights of this tournament.

People picking their second country to follow, or following a whole new country just for qualification purposes while supporting them as much as they could and the cheering of superhuman feats no matter whose team performs them.

That stopped tonight.

Outside the grounds I swear some of the very same people I saw screaming for Pakistan a few nights back were now chanting “Go home Pakistan”, “bye, bye, Pakistan” or “Sri Lanka Zindabad”.  Pakistan fans coming out of the stadium were greeted by laughing or taunting Sri Lanka fans who had long forgotten that Pakistan were there second favourite side and were now happily giving them some stick.

This is more of a party than a tournament.  And I’m not just talking about what goes on player’s hotel rooms.

Because of the setting, the amount of games in quick succession and the nature of double headers, it’s been far less patriotic than a bilateral series or even a world cup.  If you are here to support your country, you are probably also going to see neutral games as well.  It’s how this tournament is.

But tonight all that disappeared.  The Sri Lankans had been cheering Chris Gayle supporting the Pakistanis and getting excited at Shane Watson, but not any more.  Tonight Pakistan was the opposition, not their second favourite team.

Watson or Gayle can be sure that their sixes will be met largely by silence followed by an ICC firework.

The Sri Lankan fans can now see themselves winning this.  They really want to win it.  They even started partying like they were winning it.  One fan drinking what appeared to be arrack as he hung out of the sunroof of a car while wearing a Sri Lankan shirt and wrapped in a Sri Lankan flag was certainly enjoying the victory.  There seemed to be more fans outside the ground than could ever fit into the ground.

Most of them, when there wasn’t a Pakistani fan to laugh at, were already calling Sri Lanka the champions.  Why wait to Sunday when you can start celebrating now.

The party bit of this tournament has definitely ended, the party in Sri Lanka may not end for quite some time.

Result: I missed Afridi’s last ever innings (well it could be) by deciding to wash my hands. Dilshan now won’t get beaten to death by a sack of rambutans.

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The Mendises

Jeevan Mendis is not a good legspinner.

I say that as a bad legspinner.  We can smell our own.

His action is forced, his front arm doesn’t help him, and he sort of slings the ball down in a way that means he has trouble aiming in line or length.

But he tries really hard and he’s not an idiot.

Every really good team has a Jeevan Mendis.

Mendis is Steve Kerr, Shane Kerrison or James Hopes of this Sri Lankan team.  The man who can do a little bit of everything, who enjoys training, who makes everyone feel good because they’re more talented than him, smiles a lot and is a decent dude.

In this game he came in to bat as the owners of the crab restaurant disappeared.  It was consolidation time.

Most batsmen, especially one who is not yet an automatic selection, would have worked their way into the innings, thinking of themselves and what the replay will look like when they go out.

People like Mendis don’t really think that way.

They just want to get the job done and help out where they can.

Mendis is not a pretty batsman.  He tries to hit every ball so hard it hurts your eyes after a while, but England didn’t expect an all out attack and instead of keeping Sri Lanka down to a manageable total.

18 off 13 is not an innings you tell your kids about, but it’s the sort of innings that someone like Mendis does to help his team to victory.

When he bowled he started with a short ball, one ball massively outside leg stump, a couple of half volleys, and clean bowled Ravi Bopara with a ball that was full and went straight.  In that one over he ended with 1/5.  That was his only over.

Ajantha Mendis, his favoured evil twin (not really, but I’m working on a script), bowled four overs for 40.  In an earlier match Ajantha took 12 wickets or something.

In the final, I know who I’d prefer to have.

Result: KP gets smugger as Ravi packs his computer games and heads home.

Samit Patel was not mentioned in this blog.

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the superness never ends at kandy

There is no super speed with a super over.  Add to that the bail that seemed to have jumped off on its own volition, and the whole process seemed to take longer than the game itself.

While the Windies left the ground mid warm up, I thought of the only super over I could remember. It was oddly a warm up match between Ireland and the Dutch before the 2009 World T20. Ireland scored 6 for one wicket, with three byes and one leg bye.  Then the Dutch scored two off the first ball, and had back to back run outs from the third and fourth balls to lose by four runs.  It was brilliantly farcical.  But it was like the out takes that show during the credits.

Those memories didn’t last long enough, as now the ICC end of match paraphernalia had to be taken from the field.  I wondered about the need for a super over.  This was only a round robin match; there was real reason why it couldn’t just be a tie.  Ties are cool too.  Neither team really deserved to win, the kiwis couldn’t field at all and Sri Lanka took their foot off the gas before they even got to the home straight.  Some times a tie is fates way of saying, “hey, neither of you deserve to win this”.  But this is T20; we must have a result at the end of our 3 (or 4) hours of cricket.  This must end cleanly after many minutes of fumbling.

At the moment the scoreboard is being restocked with the correct names, or Chris Gayle has been recruited for New Zealand.  I’m not really sure I like a super over, it seems like a lot of fun, but .  And like a film with too many endings, it had the perfect story line of the slow motion shoot out where you’re not sure who has died, only for the film to end a few minutes later with an ending of far less tension.   A tie is generally going to be more exciting than a super over because it took all match to fester, and isn’t massively contrived.

The three man batting and one man bowling attacks have been chosen.  The game could have finished in a cloud of smoke with a controversial run out.  We could have had experts musing and debating the end of this game like cricket’s Zapruder film. Everyone could have taken sides.  Maybe the bail was taken out by a grassy knee.  The whole event seems to deny the law of physics.   Sometimes a mysterious end full of questions is the right way to end.








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Sri Lanka fail in tiny bash

As if the ICC hadn’t conspired enough against their own tournament, now whichever god, sentient being or brand of alien you believe in was taking down this cup without a cup.

First night, boom, Richard Levi’s ass and Dilshan’s ego should have started this tournament with a clash of two teams who can actually win the tournament.

No, instead we get than on day 5, the first day the rain turns up.

What can you learn from seven overs, can you accurately judge the character of a human being in such a short time.

It’s like saying, “that guy’s a dick” when they cut you off in traffic.

You don’t really know their a dick, or care, but you feel the need to say something because it happened in front of you. And in this case, you’re not even the driver, you’re playing with your phone in the passengers seat. And you’re not in any rush to get there, as even if they beat you, it still doesn’t matter. And you should have turned off the road days ago. And you never wanted to go this way anyway. And there are no good food places on this route, only fried chicken and juice bars. And who gievs a fuck about a t7 game when both teams have already qualified.

Result: A crowd of people turned up to watch a cricket match in Sri Lanka. Although I once saw more people line up to see a port that had just been built in Hambantota.

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Zimbabwe v Mendis

I stayed in Colombo for the first game because Hambantota is fucken miles from anywhere, and why would you travel for 12 hours to see Sri Lanka play a bye? You wouldn’t, especially if you’ve ever been to Hambantota before like I have. I preferred to stay in the smoky confines of the cricket club cafe etching a plate of “Gooch’s fish and chips”.

Zimbabwe fielded like a team who had never noticed how hard a cricket ball was before. What was going on, it looked like a team trying to give the themselves a few more to chase in a practice match. Even Kamran Akmal would have mocked them.

Their bowling was missing a Ray Price or three. Zimbabwe is a team your local cricket side could play against, and upon seeing them warm up, you’d think there was nothing to worry about.

Then they played A Mendis, and it seemed unfair to refer to this as a match.

I still stand by my assertion that Mendis a genius if you haven’t played him, and a shit version of Chris Harris if you have and worked him out.

Zimbabwe looked like they were a 90 year old grandfather who had been told to operate dos through his MacBook pro.

And even the other Mendis, the very part time leggie, was unplayable. Ervine and Cremer played the J Mendis wrong’un like he’d never even heard of the concept, and he bowls them himself. It was gornography, it wasn’t a spin master class, it was like dipping a goat in a tub of lye.

Jeevan M, won’t be much of the factor with the ball later in the tournament. And I doubt Ajantha M will even pay if it’s a semi or final against a team that has worked him out, which is most of them.

Zimbabwe looked as bad as Elton’s balls down the legside, The firm of Mendis and Mendis made their stats look good, but Sri Lanka could have phoned this in and still won easy.

The biggest story was KP. His studio work is shockingly good. He’s likeable, says interesting stuff, and makes Wasim Akram look like a desi George Clooney.

Result: KP and Mendis’s bowling figures win easily. This was a banana skin game, after all.

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the last day

The last day of a Test Match is often like a town that has lost its main industry. The structure is still the same, but the town has that eerie walking-dead feel to it. There are many reasons why people don’t come, but they’re all nonsense. It’s massively underpopulated, better seats are available, you don’t have to line up for food as long, it’s cheaper and you’re guaranteed to see the end of the match. I’ve been lucky over the years, I’ve seen a Warne hat-trick, an incredible Kallis hundred, and Freddie Flintoff bowl Australia out in one match and throw them out in another.

The best part is often not even the cricket. The last day is your chance to see a carnival atmosphere at a Test match. Everyone from the players to the security guards are more relaxed. Things are being packed up, players mingle with fans and weirdness can happen.

On day five at Galle, I ended up being given a beer by the president of the SLC, was cheered on for my suits by the Sri Lankan support staff and walked past the trucks that were clearing out the toilets.

On day five at the P Sara, I listened to a conversation.


Now I’m well aware that this conversation may not have interested everyone, but when Suraj Randiv and Graeme Swann found each other out on the ground, I knew what they were talking about. You could tell by their hands that it was nerd spin talk.

To get close enough to hear I had to push through the crowd who were holding up English kit that had been thrown to them by the players, police officers who were standing there without really doing anything and the throng of people trying to take photos of Swann. I got as close to Randiv and Swann as the massive English security officer would let me. Then I had to block out the many fans who were planning to get something signed the minute the conversation ended.

The first bits I heard where Swann talking about wrist position. My persistence had paid off. For the next three minutes I was listening to a spin bowling masterclass. Randiv had clearly asked Swann about his action and whether he imparted too much over-spin on the ball. Swann explained his own action, and suggested that too much over-spin wasn’t a problem for Randiv as he still ragged it.

Wrists, fingers, arm height and follow through were all discussed as Randiv, and I, listened intently. Randiv, Swanny’s Padawan learner, and me, the lucky eavesdropper.

The conversation ended with Swanny being very complimentary to Randiv about his bowling. He never said ‘attaboy’, but it was one of those sorts of conversations. I assume it boosted Randiv; even I was ready to hit the nets and try a few offies to see if Swann’s words could help me. And I’m a leggie.

The last day of a Test, whether it be the third, fourth or fifth day, can contain a nugget or two of magic, on or off the pitch, during or after the game.

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