When the euphoria of 17 March 1996 sank in, most of us believed that Sri Lanka’s crack at a future World Cup Final was a pipe dream. But less than a decade hence, amidst administrative chaos and limited resources, Sri Lankans proved otherwise by illuminating the 2007 World Cup with unorthodoxy and skill.
Having brushed aside all opposition in the preliminary round, in their first Super Eights match, Sri Lanka were staring down the barrel with South Africa cruising at 206 for 5 after 44.4 overs, needing just 4 runs to win.
What happened next is the unforgettable nerve-wracking, thrilling passage of play:
- Over 44.5 Malinga to Shaun Pollock on 13, OUT. Pollock couldn’t read a perfect low-slung slow curve-ball and lost his leg stump.
- 44.6 Malinga to Andrew Hall, OUT. Hall was hurried by a deadly yorker, just managing to dig it out, but the ball looped up in the air and was comfortably held at cover.
- 46th 1 run off an accurate Chaminda Vaas over.
- 46.1 Malinga on a hat-trick.
Malinga to Jacques Kallis, OUT. Hat-trick for Malinga! Fast, full and furious, outside off stump, and Kallis (86) nicked it, going for a square-drive.
- 46.2 Malinga to Makhaya Ntini, OUT. A scorching yorker, crashed into the middle stump.
4 in 4 for Lasith Malinga, a world record!
South Africa were nine down.
- 46.3 Malinga to Charl Langeveldt, no run. Beaten. Full, just outside off, yorker-length and seemed to kiss off stump. Did it touch?
- 46.4 Malinga to Langeveldt, no run. Full, straight, on the off stump, pushed to mid off.
3 to win from 20 balls. Nerves, yes; out there in the middle and stunned faces in the South African dressing room, as opposed to shrieking Sri Lankan fans.
- 46.5 Malinga to Langeveldt, 1 run. Slow, on middle and leg, mis-fielded by Sanath Jayasuriya at square leg.
- 46.6 Malinga to Robin Peterson, no run, beaten. Another peach, full and tailing away from off stump.
- 48th Langeveldt – twice beaten by Vaas, a maiden.
- 48.1 Malinga to Peterson, no run, beaten. Full, just outside off stump and slanted away.
- 48.2 Malinga to Peterson, four. Fullish, outside off stump, Peterson drives and edged past the slip.
- Last 22 balls w w | 1 • • • • • | w w • • 1 • | • • • • • • | • 4
Lasith Malinga almost produced the greatest ODI heist of all time. South Africa won a cliff-hanger.
Some argue that bowlers are not allowed to have tape on their bowling fingers, even owing to injury, to prevent them gaining an unfair advantage.
Propelled by Mahela Jayawardena’s magically paced 115 not out, Sri Lanka swept aside New Zealand in the semi-final, and faced Australia in the final. In breezy, overcast conditions and rain, play started at 12.15 pm, instead of 9.30 am. Though there was a reserve day, the laughable playing conditions of the tournament, dictated a (reduced) 38-over game.
After ten overs, Australia were 46 without loss; the turning point coming in the 11th over. Dilhara Fernando dropped a caught and bowled chance, driven straight into his ankles, by Adam Gilchrist, then on 31. Holding his bat high, Gilchrist then swung and connected all. His ferocious 149 took only 104 balls. Australia made 281 for 4 in their 38 overs. In typical Sri Lankan style, the chase was on frenetically with Sanath Jayasuriya’s pyrotechnics and Sangakkara throwing the bat, for a risk versus return of 102 for 1 in 16 overs.
However, further rain interruptions, wet, windy and gloomy conditions thwarted Sri Lanka. Chasing a revised target of 269 off 36 overs, they ended up at 215 for 8 after 36 overs, bringing about a farcical conclusion to the tournament.
When Gilchrist ̶ who had a quiet World Cup until then ̶ reached his century off 72 balls, waved and repeatedly pointed towards his left glove, a rather strange celebration for the fastest hundred in the history of World Cup finals. He later admitted using half a squash ball inside his left glove to improve his grip and be technically better with his top hand. Some argue that bowlers are not allowed to have tape on their bowling fingers, even owing to injury, to prevent them gaining an unfair advantage. Sri Lankan cricket authorities said Gilchrist broke the ‘spirit and tradition of the game’. However, the MCC, the final authority on cricket’s laws, said Gilchrist had not contravened the game’s laws or spirit. According to them, it was no different to wearing inner gloves, extra padding or cushioning material as an integral part of the inside palm or using two grips on the bat handle.
The respected Sri Lankan cricket writer Mahinda Wijesinghe, who was the first to present a technical paper on the ‘third umpire’ concept to the governing body, i.e., the ICC, differs, thus:
Why is it that, after that, nobody used it if it was a success? Obviously, because there would have been behind the scenes restrictions such as, “don’t make an issue of it, but henceforth don’t use it,” because the laws are very clear.’
From the Sri Lankan team’s context, similarities present themselves between then and now. Then, Marvan Atapattu’s recurring back injury created an opportunity for Mahela Jayawardena as interim captain in March 2006. Although Sri Lankans were an experienced outfit with many match-winners, the outcome wasn’t what one would write home about.
Nevertheless, results rounded the corner under Jayawardena’s steely and shrewd leadership. Ably guided and cunningly coached by Tom Moody, the team gelled and played the game with passion, flair and commitment. Atapattu continued in Sri Lanka’s 2007 World Cup squad but didn’t figure in the final eleven in any of the games; a testament to how Jayawardena operated ̶ taking bold decisions in the interests of the team.
When coaching Sri Lanka, Dav Whatmore used to say, ‘We have the hardware – my job is to sort out the software.’
There’s abundant talent and natural flair among the current crop of young players, with seniors beginning to pull their weight. If the reappointed captain, Angelo Mathews – new coach, Hathurusingha nexus could instil greater self-belief and revive Sri Lanka’s famed audacious brand of cricket, their chances of success may be even, come 2019.
An edited version of this post appeared in the July 2018 issue of the LIVING magazine.