Cricket Aspirations of Twenty Million Sri Lankans
It may have been a disadvantage that India arrived at the finals of ICC T/20 Cricket World Cup without having been seriously tested. Dhoni and his men made light weight of Pakistan beating their arch rivals by eight wickets at Dhaka where 130 for 7 was nothing of a challenge. At the next helping, the defending champions West Indies timidly compiled 129 for seven to which India routinely replied losing only three wickets. Then the tournament hosts Bangladesh appeared awestruck scoring 138 on a very good surface, following this up with an impact of only two wickets claimed before India's formality of 141 for two wickets. The final coronation of India as group winners was anti-climactic against the much heralded Australia who could only put up a paltry reply of 86 all out to India's 159 for seven wickets.
On evidence of overwhelming superiority on current form—in the statistical context— Sri Lanka as finalist didn't, in the opinion of many weigh in as credible adversaries. But cricket has always proved to be a sport capable of dishing up surprises. Sri Lanka's pre-final résumé boasted three wins out of their four matches in the Group phase. They scraped through by five runs limiting South Africa to 160 for eight. Next they dismissed the Netherlands for 39— a gross anomalous occurrence!
Back to reality, England muscled 190 for four to overtake Sri Lanka's 189 for four. This was followed by the drama of having to perform the unlikely feat of defending 119 runs, the lowest total ever successfully defended in the T20 World Cup. Somehow New Zealand were thwarted by Herath's lightning strike of five wickets for three runs which eliminated Kiwis 60 for nine.
Call it divine intervention, if you will! Yet, even more was to follow. In the semi-final against West Indies the Sri Lankans, to all appearances, were gifted with a supreme lifeline of a bonanza of 53 runs in their last five overs to elevate their score from a perilous 107 for four to 160 for six wickets. The heavens spoke out loudly as West Indies dithered on 77 for four. Torrential rains came down amid an emphatic downpour of hailstones of impressive size. Sri Lanka must have taken this as portentous in the extreme. The Duckworth-Lewis System decreed West Indies to be short by 27 runs at that point, continuing Sri Lanka's rocky passage into the final.
My admonition that India's unblemished walk into the final should pay heed to the quirks of a perverse law of averages— good things can suddenly come to an abrupt end, was not intended to put blight on the obviously strongest team in the tournament, if form was anything to be noted. Form is not always paramount. It can reveal itself to be fickle, in as fickle a contest as cricket — and moreso in the shortest format of the game.
Anyway, all speculation aside, everything boiled down to the big moment of the final on Sunday 6th April. In a final the previous slates are erased and everything hinges on climactic factors, not the least of which: who wants it most!
Sri Lanka came to the party looking to win the T20 championship for the first time. This must have made them the hungrier team and this they proceeded to demonstrate by their deeds. The stage was set and fortune once more favoured Sri Lanka by providing them with a win of the toss. They were delighted to send India to bat—on the assumption that anything like a reasonable score could be chased down through experienced batsmen seeking to dominate, without acting with undue arrogance.
India's first ten overs yielded 69 for one wicket. However, Verat Kohli, who rightly gained accolade of man of the Tournament for his aggregate of 319 runs, had to be contained in the concluding overs to prevent India from registering too comfortable a total.
Between the 10th and 20th over India was held to an addition of only 61 runs. The extreme miserliness of the Sri Lankan bowling spearheaded by their captain Lasith Malinga dutifully conceded four runs in the 17th over, four in the 18th, four in the 19th and seven in the 20th—130 for four wickets. Kohli 77, run out at the close.
A target of 131 was never going to be daunting for Sri Lanka who only needed to hold their nerve. Elder statesman Kumar Sangakara led the way with 52 not out. Mahala Jayawardene exerted a steadying hand to get the score up to 65 for three in the building phase and Perera 23 not out was there at the moment of ascendancy. Sri Lanka with 134 for four in 17.5 overs had lifted the trophy via an astute demonstration of character and resolve.
What had in the final analysis seen them through was the exertion of single –mindedness. Everything goes back to the perfectly well formulated technique of Malinga in keeping top batsmen quiet with his formidable yorkers. It is said that he had difficulty in getting his colleagues to expose themselves to a barrage of toe breaking deliveries during practice sessions. What he did was to place a pair of old shoes at the precise location in the nets and bowl at them until the art of the yorker on demand was very well formulated.
Attention to specific detail in practice sessions has eventually paid off in securing the top prize. A nation of twenty million has triumphed over the largest democratic country in the world. The odds were huge against achieving this. But nothing beats adherence to well formulated plans and unswerving execution. Sri Lanka are deserving winners. West Indies are another story to tell in due course. Sammy and his men must be taking consolation in the fact that no country has won the T20 Cricket Championship twice.