By now, the Sri Lankan cricket team would probably be heading to the airport to catch a flight home or would have landed in Colombo. Their loss to Pakistan in the final league match of ICC Champions Trophy would have left the members of the Sri Lankan cricket fraternity and supporters heartbroken, including their team manager and commentary ‘legend’, Ranjit Fernando.
Since Firstpost was too busy covering the business end of the tournament, FP Special Forces imagines what might have been going through Fernando’s mind when Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed hit the winning runs at Cardiff.
Read at your own risk:
One must understand that Sri Lanka simply did not play a good brand of cricket against Pakistan in what was a virtual quarter-final.
All Sri Lanka had to do was to get enough runs on the board, and then prevent the Pakistanis from reaching the target. That was all they had to do, and yet they fell short of it.
To start things off, it was never going to be an easy proposition for the Sri Lankans against the mercurial Pakistanis. Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka broke the shackles against a spirited Indian team with a wonderful partnership between themselves. That came as a fresh whiff of breeze after the mockery at the hands of the South Africans at the start of the campaign.
One would reckon the fact that the sudden exit of Kusal Perera from the tournament might have had some impact on the outcome on the match. It forced the team management to bring in Dhananjaya de Silva straight from the land previously known to the British rulers as Ceylon.
As if to make things worse, Dhananjaya was drafted into the team barely 48 hours later, with captain Tharan… uhh Angelo Mathews deciding to shore up the batting department. Dhananjaya barely would have adjusted to the climes of Old Blighty, and found himself in the middle of a pressure-cooker situation in no time at all.
Why couldn’t the team management bring in someone like Lakshan Sandakan in? The batting might have improved quite extensively in the win over India, and it wouldn’t have posed too many problems for them, with the pitch having a good carry. It was the bowling that had nothing to write home about in both games of the ongoing Champions Trophy.
Returning to the loss to Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s middle-order was guilty of undoing all the hard work that wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella and Angelo brought into the innings, falling in a cluster in the middle overs. Both batsmen maintained their composure after the loss of three early wickets, including that of Danushka, one of the heroes from the previous game.
Niroshan maintained his composure, and seemed to get everything right today while bringing up his half-century: The first time he has managed to convert a decent early start into a big total. However, it was only when Angelo was out there that he started to get confidence of to go for the shots.
The latter’s dismissal at the hands of Mohammad Amir — the first wicket of the tournament for the latter — triggered a collapse that reduced the Islanders to 167/7, with Amir and Junaid Khan producing a dream spell at that point. Asela Gunaratne rallied with the lower-order to help the Lankans flutter away to a total within striking distance of the 250-run mark.
Angelo’s wicket might be considered one of the two major turning points of the game. The other: that Thisara Perera drop.
The early stages of the Pakistan innings saw Fakhar Zaman blazing away with courageous stroke play a few deliveries after Azhar Ali was dropped on zero. The young batsman understood the gravity of the situation, and would have realised that the Pakistanis would not get bowled out if they were to qualify for the coveted semi-final spot.
Fakhar gave Pakistanis just the start that they needed, and the team were looking set to march into the semis in no time, provided they did not lose wickets while building partnerships.
However, his dismissal on 50, his first ODI half-century in only second appearance, set things back for the Green-shirts and soon enough, it became a competition of which side could be more unpredictable. From 92/1, Pakistan suddenly were at 162/7. Angelo did well to marshall his troops during the middle overs of the Pakistan innings, with Nuwan Pradeep playing the tormentor for the Pakistanis during that phase.
However, captain Sarfraz maintained his composure and finally got his moment of glory on the field after being in the headlines mostly for his hilarious pressers. From flicking it, and flicking it well to rotating the singles with non-striker Amir — who was no mug with the bat either — the two went on to seal the match in their team’s favour.
Sarfraz stuck around like an experienced campaigner, and his valiant effort reaped rich dividends for his side that were labelled outright underdogs after their belting at the hands of Virat Kohli and Co at Edgbaston.
Perera’s drop seemed to have a ripple effect on the rest of the Sri Lankan team. Suddenly the number of misfield and dropped chances skyrocketed. Substitute fielder Seekkuge Prasanna dropped Sarfraz later in the chase, though he fell a trifle short in what was a tough chance.
It was almost as if the Sri Lankan team had conspired against their own win, and in the end, they displayed the very reason they had been billed underdogs ahead of the tournament.
Looking ahead into the tournament, Pakistan must not be complacent in their crucial semi-final clash against hosts England.
For the Sri Lankans though, they could consider pondering over their campaign, one in which they were so close, yet so far, while cooling their heels back home.
Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 21:49 PM