What started so promisingly ultimately ended in another night of heartbreak for Sri Lankan cricket fans on Sunday, as the side were beaten by an inspired West Indies side in the World Twenty20 final. It was a bitterly disappointing result for Sri Lanka, crashing to their fourth defeat in world tournaments in five years. For me personally, this was certainly one of the hardest to swallow, as one of the sides that were dominant throughout the tournament (and convincingly humbled West Indies in the Super Eights) crumbled in front of a distraught home crowd to surrender the title.
Such a result seemed a million miles away after the first twelve overs of the match. In an unbelievably good start, the Lankan bowlers restricted West Indies to 48-2 after 12 overs, with Ajantha Mendis capturing the key wicket of masterblaster Chris Gayle for just 3 off 16 balls. A brilliant spell of unerring accuracy from Angelo Mathews provided excellent support. What followed was, in my opinion, one of the great T20 international innings by West Indies’ Marlon Samuels. In a stunning innings of power hitting, Samuels hammered 78 off 56 balls to swing the momentum towards his side. He was particularly severe on Sri Lanka’s star pace bowler Lasith Malinga who was plundered for 54 runs from four wicketless overs. With the help of a late cameo from captain Darren Sammy, Samuels ensured West Indies recovered to post 137-6 from their 20 overs, a target that some thought might test the Sri Lankans on a tricky pitch.
The chase was dealt an enormous hammerblow when Tillakaratne Dilshan was bowled by a “jaffer” from Ravi Rampaul in the second over for a duck. Experienced hands Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara struggled to make use of the fielding restrictions in the first six overs, wary of exposing the middle order. West Indies applied the pressure slowly but surely with accurate bowling and impressive fielding (despite dropping a couple of tough chances). As the required run-rate progressively climbed, the Sri Lankans finally cracked, losing 6 wickets for 21 in pursuit of quick runs. At 69-7 the game was all but up. Nuwan Kulasekara briefly kindled hopes of a miracle with an assault of 26 from 13 balls, but when his lofted drive found deep extra cover, the result was a foregone conclusion. The remaining lower order batsman didn’t last long, and the winning (or losing) moment came when Malinga was caught in the deep by Dwayne Bravo off the impressive Sunil Narine. West Indies celebrated in true Carribbean Calypso (or perhaps more Korean!) style by performing the dance to the new hit “Gangnam Style”, as the devastated home fans saw their title dreams shatter again.
I’m sure many critics will analyze this defeat and point to certain events to try to explain how such a strong position was surrendered. My personal feeling is that we should congratulate West Indies on a superb comeback and victory, rather than focus on attaching blame to various members of our team. Samuels’ onslaught undoubtedly swung the momentum towards his side. Whilst one could argue that Jayawardene could have removed Malinga from the attack after his expensive second over, Samuels also had the measure of the spinners, and just imagine the outcry if the other bowlers were flogged and the man regarded as one of the best limited over bowlers in the world was left without his full quota bowled. The batting buckled under pressure, but this was in great part due to excellent West Indian bowling on a pitch that all but 2 or 3 batsmen on either side struggled to score on.
Following the defeat, Jayawardene resigned from the captaincy in the T20 format, a decision he states was reached before the tournament itself. I think this is a reasonable decision, as it will hopefully give some time for the new captain (the leading contender is presumably Mathews) to establish himself before Jayawardene resigns from all formats, an event which can’t be too far away. Whilst yet another missed opportunity of securing a world trophy will be difficult for the team and fans to stomach, I still believe Sri Lankan Cricket may have a bright future in the next two or three years in limited overs formats, provided it looks after itself. The experienced core of Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Dilshan still seem to have the hunger to succeed. Ajantha Mendis made an excellent return to the fold in his favoured format, while namesake Jeevan has continued to show a new maturity to his all round game. Rookie spinner Akila Dananjaya also impressed with his mysterious variations. Having said that, the “bridesmaids”/finals-chokers tag will only be truly erased when the last hurdle is successfully crossed. Let’s hope this team can go one better next time around!