Friday, 26 December 2014

One Man Army; the unaccountable variable

Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Day 1, Christchurch

In the 1985 remake of the famous American patriotic action movie "Invasion USA", a carefully planned invasion of the south eastern coast of USA is carried out by a bunch of organized Cuban communist guerrillas. They hoodwink the US Coast Guard, the police and even the FBI to arrive in Miami and take over the area in a matter of hours. The United States is forced to hand over the case to the CIA and bring in the national guard to Miami to control the situation. All is going well for the guerrillas. But even with all their planning, and careful calculations, they had not accounted for one single human being and the impact he would have on the whole invasion; Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris single-handedly finds the root of the operation and eliminates it and decimates most of the invading forces, and manages to stop the invasion. The guerrillas don't do to much wrong. Their plans are effective and efficient. If not for the one man army of Chuck Norris, their invasion would have been quite a successful one. But one man can make so much difference. 

On a sunny beautiful morning in Christchurch, where test cricket had returned after a lapse of 8 years, Sri Lanka learnt this lesson the hard way. They had carefully planned not to give width outside off to the openers Latham and Rutherford, and had them weeded out before lunch. They pressured Ross Taylor in to quick singles and had him run out. They dried the in form Kane Williamson of the strike and got him bowled through the gate. They bowled in good areas more often than not. They carried out their plans. But they had failed to account for one man; Brendon McCullum. McCullum, as if he was possessed by the ghost of Chuck Norris (and yes, Chuck Norris has a ghost even though he is not dead), hammered the Sri Lankan bowlers to all parts of the ground. Good length balls, short of the length balls with awkward bounce, balls that spun away from him and in to him, sometimes with the turn sometimes against, he attacked every good ball and every bad ball and completely single handedly annihilated any plans of a Sri Lankan invasion on the shores of Christchurch. 

By the time he was done, McCullum had made 195 runs off 134 deliveries. At one stage, just across the trans-Tasman, Australia had faced 60 overs for 175 runs. At the same time, in the same amount of overs, New Zealand were on 375. McCullum had wiped the floor with the Sri Lankan bowlers, and then had creamed them, marmalized them, and took them to the cleaners to have them washed up to be served again after tea. Angelo Mathews had to resort to Lahiru Thirimanne to stem the flow of runs. Thirimanne doesn't even bowl to his brother in his back yard, let alone for his national test team. Brendon McCullum did a Chuck Norris, and when someone does a Chuck Norris, there's nothing much you can do to stop them.

Oh the countless puns of Sri Lankan fast bowlers slipping up in New Zealand
But if you exclude that innings from the team total, imagine it never happened, as Tharindu Kaushal will be telling him self in his hotel room at this very moment, New Zealand's scorecard would read 234/7, and you could say that Sri Lanka have done fairly well for a first day of a tour. Even if McCullum had whisked 60 runs for himself, the score still would have stood at 294/7, which is still impressive for a bowling attack that isn't too intimidating. Apart from McCullum, Sri Lanka have bowled out the other 7 batsman for 234 runs at 32 runs per wicket, which is far from disastrous. McCullum just happened. Just like Gayle's haywire 333 at Galle, or Sehwag's 201 at the same venue, it just happened. No Murali or Warne or Donald or Akram would have been able to stop what happened today from happening. All you can do is to peg away at the batsman at the other end, and Sri Lanka have done just that. The last thing you need after a marathon innings like that is for the guy at the other end to score a 100 from 200 balls, and bat with the tail and take the total past 600. In that sense, Sri Lanka have still not let the game slip through their fingers, although Kumar Sangakkara tried extremely hard to make it that way. He was probably just missing Mahela. 

In the midst of the carnage, Sri Lanka also sneaked in two surprise selections. The less obvious one was Tharindu Kaushal, as Dilruwan Perera is still learning how to turn a door knob, and soon will be able to start to learn how to turn a red cricket ball. Kaushal was rather impressive and bowled a lot better than 159/1 suggests. Relaxed run up, good wristy, not-so-dodgy action, great loop through the air and dip, he seemed fit for the international stage. If he could work on his Dilhara Fernando syndrome and also try not to give the ball too much air so much so that it doesn't even land before it reaches the batsmen, he might just be an able partner to Herath, specially for home tests. The pace trio of Lakmal, Eranga and Dhammika bowled well too, Lakmal being the pick of the bowlers although he was taken apart for 26 runs in one over by McCullum. Dhammika bowled a few peaches while Eranga stuck to good lines and lengths, again with spoilt figures thanks to Mr.BigMac. The second surprise selection was Dickwella, ahead of Chandimal. But to be fair, Dickwella had done enough in the opportunity he was given against South Africa to retain his place. How he goes about handling Boult and Southee tomorrow or when ever he bats, will be the real test of his character.

At the end of day's play Sri Lanka have knocked over all the specialized batsmen in the New Zealand team, and after winning the toss and putting New Zealand in, that should be pretty pleasing. They will have to come back tomorrow morning and gun down the hard hitting tail of Southee, Boult and Craig and bat out the next 4 or possibly 5 sessions. Sri Lanka should not just bat for runs, they should also bat for time. They cannot leave New Zealand too much time to set them a tough 4th innings target with enough overs to bowl them out. The wicket looks extremely good for batting, as it turns out the pitch was only as green as a member of the UNP just before crossing over to the government, and therefore Sri Lanka should still feel that all is not lost, for there are days like this when one single human being can ruin and destroy well organized operations and completely dispose of careful plans and precise calculations. Today was McCullum's day. 

Until tomorrow,

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