The T20 world cup finally ignited in Pallekele in the opening fixture of the much anticipated ‘Super Eights.’ Sri Lanka met a well-drilled New Zealand outfit in one of the closest matches in living memory, the Lankans eventually winning in a ‘super over,’ cricket’s newest incarnation of a penalty shootout. This dramatic conclusion was a result of the Sri Lankan’s equalling New Zealand’s score of 174, despite at one stage looking like they would overhaul this substantial total with overs to spare and needing just a single off the last ball, eventually leading to a run-out with a touch of mystery.
After New Zealand won the toss and chose to bat, the pitch looked easy-paced and flat as the Sri Lankan’s tried to keep the big-hitting Kiwi’s top-order at bay. After the opening pair threatened to get away, Sri Lankan’s latest mystery spinner, Mahamarakkala Kurukulasooriya Patabendige Akila Dananjaya Perera, or just Akila Danajaya for those who don’t like such tongue-twisters, announced his debut on the international stage (he has only ever played 6 games of professional cricket) with a 3rd ball wicket. After much hype in the press he looked to be using at least 4 of the variations of spin bowling he possesses, which troubled high-class batsmen when they were correctly delivered. Dananjaya, despite a slender build and stature, looks full of confidence and has clearly got the stomach for the fight, evident when he took a fearsome blow to the cheek from a full-blooded drive straight back at him yet continued playing and proceeded to take another wicket. Apparently he was disappointed a potential catch went a-begging! A potential late New Zealand surge was mooted by some excellent bowling from Nuwan Kulasekera and the death-bowling specialist Lasith Malinga. 174, the target set to chase, seemed to be a par score, early wickets would certainly see Sri Lanka on the back foot.
However, the Lions’ opening pair of Tillakaratne Dilshan and captain Mahela Jayawardene cut loose from the off (62-0 after 5 overs) and the chase then seemed to be relatively plain sailing; the crowd began partying like the game had already been won! The brute force of Dilshan and finesse of Mahela was T20 batting at its finest, and Kumar Sangakkara showed a brief glimpse of why he is regarded amongst finest batsman to have played the game as he was almost unbowlable to in his cameo of 21. With his dismissal, Dilshan continued to keep the score board ticking, however the boundaries dried up. This led to an escalating run-rate amongst some exceptional bowling from Tim Southee, consistently finding the block-hole where Angelo Mathews and co. could only manoeuvre singles. The situation boiled down to 5 runs being required from the final 2 balls, and the ground erupted when the cool-headed Lahiru Thirimanne scored a much-needed boundary, although no-one could predict the happenings of the final ball. Surrounded by fielders close to the bat, Thirimanne could not pierce the infield, presenting the Kiwi’s with a simple run-out chance. Initially Ross Taylor seemed to have handed Sri Lanka the victory by fumbling the ball in attempting to break the stumps, although a bail was mysteriously dislodged. Replays initially proved inconclusive as to what broke the stumps, meanwhile the teams had shaken hands and the Kiwi’s had seemingly accepted their fate. It was concluded by the 3rd umpire that indeed it was the ball that had ricocheted onto the stumps, consequently Thirimanne was legitimately run out.
The game proceeded to a Super Over, a somewhat artificial way to conclude such a close game. The rules: one over, two wickets in hand, most runs wins! Sri Lanka held their nerve under extreme pressure courtesy of their kingpin Lasith Malinga bowling a superb over as the Lankans secured a vital victory in the super eights stages, moving them a step closer to a semi-final berth. The fireworks erupted in the beautiful night sky over Kandy, as the world T20 exploded into life.