Friday, 28 March 2014

A Failed Conquest and Bowling Tactics

Sri Lanka v England, World T20 2014

After their mauling of age old political rivals; Netherlands, Sri Lanka would have expected to complete their revenge on all nations that have had previous or current political and economic control over their country, by thrashing England on Wednesday, convincingly beating India in the semi finals and go the full circle by completely destroying China in the final. But since China does not have a cricket team playing in the current world cup, and since Alex Hales is an unstoppable brutal hitter of a slippery cricket ball; the very cricket ball Ajantha Mendis can't seem to grip more than he could grip a soaped up frog with a moss coat, Sri Lanka's revenge on their arm twisting, gut wrenching masters will have to be fulfilled in a place other than a cricket field.

But Alex Hales was indeed unstoppable. How he made it to #1 of the world T20 batting rankings is a question even his parents have trouble explaining to their family friends, but why he is there, and the fact that it was no fluke and that he will remain there for a while, is no longer an arguable statement. A bowling attack that Netherlands made seem more dangerous than West Indies in the late 80s, Alex Hales made seem less competent and unpenetrative like an Indian pace attack in the late 90s. Lasith Malinga, who is Sri Lanka's best T20 bowler, was treated like Mick Lewis was treated by the South Africans at the Bullring so much so that Nuwan Kulasekara has now become Sri Lanka's spearhead. And while Sri Lanka's world collapsed with every slog sweep and lofted on drive from Hales, Eoin Morgan quietly flicked and tucked his way to a half century at 1.5 runs per ball. His team, under his captaincy, was supposed to be the one team who had no chance of winning what is otherwise supposed to be the most open world cup since England '99, and it was as if they said "Right, we are going to pick the strongest team in the tournament so far, and we are going to take their bowlers to the cleaners, and show 'em tea drinking pompous old pricks back home how it's done. Without KP." 

Even a 5-times-dropped Mahela gem couldn't salvage Sri Lanka a defendable target.
The more he scored, the better chance Hales had of getting a hundred.
But to be fair to the Sri Lankan bowlers, there was more dew on the pitch that night than there was water in Rathupaswala. To be fair to the attack, Kulasekara did bowl an incredible spell to save some grace. To be fair to Malinga and Sachithra, they did bowl their spells at an economy well under the required run rate. To be fair to Mathews, he shouldn't be blamed for having to bowl the last over of a game already lost by that stage. To be fair to Chandimal for that call, he knew he had to win it in the 18th and 19th overs because he didn't have enough runs to defend. He threw the kitchen sink and it didn't pay off. If Chandimal kept Malinga for the 20th and bowled Mathews on the 18th, Sri Lanka wouldn't have taken the game to the last over for Malinga to even bowl it. And last but not least, to be fair to Ajantha Mendis, he's a mediocre bowler with variations that are wildly uncontrollable even with a dry ball, let alone a wet one and should have been sitting in the dugout with his feet up, watching Rangana Herath bowl his 4 overs for under 25 runs.

Personally, I don't think Sri Lanka could have done anything different to win that game, the way Hales and Morgan played. Maybe if Mahela had held that catch, and had Thisara/Mathews come in earlier than Sanga to bat, and if Mendis had bowled at least 3 quality deliveries per over, the match would have been a lot closer. But some days things just don't go your way, and Sri Lanka are better off at taking control of what they can control, rather than dwelling on what they can't.

Such as, selecting Rangana Herath for the next game. And playing Lahiru Thirimanne as an extra batsman, instead of heave-ho Seekkuge, for the suspended Chandimal. And sticking to Mahela at one-drop rather than Sanga. New Zealand are a stronger side than England, both on form and on paper. They also have a very good track record against Sri Lanka in the recent past in T20s. Sri Lanka will have to win the game to qualify, it's as easy as that. Being the second game of the day, a lot will depend on the toss as well, which would have to be taken by Lasith Malinga, for the first time as Sri Lanka's captain.

Who would have thought? The frisky haired devil from Rathgama. Let's hope he can be a winning captain too.


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