CricInfo at World Cup 1999
[The ICC Cricket World Cup - England 1999]

Muralitharan takes a hiding
Trevor Chesterfield - 14 May 1999

In London

Muthia Muralitharan whose controversially bizarre off-spin action wrecked England's batting at The Oval last year, was destroyed by the same men he teased and taunted in defeat as World Cup champions Sri Lanka were crushed by the margin of eight wickets at Lord's yesterday.

On the opening day of what was supposed to be the ``Carnival of Cricket'' there was no carnival in the Sri Lanka approach as they were drawn and quartered by a convincing England reply on the opening day of the 1999 World Cup. And frankly, if this is the best Sri Lanka can do they might as well pack for Colombo and take the first available flight home.

As England finally got some runs up the Sri Lanka off-spinner's nose during an impressive top-order display led by their captain Alec Stewart, the victory for the men in blue should finally rub off on a tardy response of a tardy local public more obsessed by other matters of disinterest. Little wonder Stewart's innings of 88 earned a magnum of champagne and man of the match award.

Chasing a simple total of 205 saw England wrap it up in the 47th over when Graeme Hick slapped Sanath Jayasuriya for a well-placed six. All it needed was sensible, calm batting and Stewart and Hick did just that in a partnership of 125 for the second wicket.

Although Nasser Hussain, brought in to plug the openers gap for the out of form Nick Knight, failed to make an impression, it was the experience of Stewart and Hick who did the leg work which rubbed whatever hopes Sri Lanka had into a damp Lord's turf.

When Muralitharan gobbled Hussain's wicket with a tidy stumping by Romesh Kaluwitharana there were those at the packed venue who were possibly wondering whether the wheels were about to fall off yet again and the ghost of the 16 wickets taken last year at The Oval was about to return.

Enter Hick, with the England total on 50. For those with memories of the World Cup final of 1992 when Hick fell to the leg-spin of Mushtaq Ahmed, his ability against spin then represented a man wielding a toothpick than a bat. Yesterday he calmly dispatched the Muralitharan myth with Stewart which may have wrecked the off-spinner's future in this tournament.

As they picked off the milestones of a partnership which spread dismay through the Sri Lanka ranks just how much Stewart's winning of the toss played in the outcome of the game is a matter of conjecture. As the visitors battled with showers, England had an easy enough ride.

For some of us, however, there was no privileged of sitting in the new Lord's pressbox for most of the non-English media contingent. So there was no special feeling of what it is like to sit in a ``space shuttle'' and watch Alan Mullally's swing do its bit to strangle the Sri Lanka lion.

Instead, seated in the old box in the Warner Stand overlooking third man, we had a different angle and watched as Mullally gutted the middle-order in the sort of well-controlled spell of bowling which netted him four wickets for 37 in his 10 overs.

Not bad at all for England, bad for Sri Lanka though. Three years ago they had been full of growl and bite but yesterday had lost most of that bravado.

Lord's is long way from Lahore where they beat Australia to take the crown in 1996, and at 65 for six it was a very long way from Colombo and the foundations of a match-winning total. Had it not been for the heroics of Kaluwitharana, misplaced in the batting order at seven, Sri Lanka may have struggled to reach the comfort of score of 200.

His swashbuckling style enabled him to at least give the England bowlers a bit of stick: a cut off Hick's gentle spin, a square-drive off Darren Gough in his second spell and a punishing cover drive for four, begged the question what on earth were the Sri Lanka selectors thinking in breaking up his successful partnership with Jayasuriya.

As it was the title-holders managed to get their top-order batting wires badly fused when Stewart invited Arjuna Ranatunga to bat first. You could feel there was a taste of distrust in the weather and adding pressure to Sri Lanka's compounded problems and batting fears.

Somewhere, somehow, the World Cup champions (limited-overs version) read the wrong signs by shuffling around their top order and leaving out the in-form Mahela Jayawardene by promoting Roshan Mahanama as an alternative to Kaluwitharana to rotate the left/right hand batting combination. What brainwave possessed them to redesign their top order may have been influenced by the weather and the possibility the ball would move around an the worry the ``big occasion'' could bother the 21-year-old Colombo bank clerk.

It was no doubt the century at Nottingham in the warm up game which seduced the Sri Lanka selectors in revising their choice. At Trent Bridge Mahanama batted with style, flair and confidence with fluent driving off the front foot leaving those whom watched he was a man in form. Yet his more recent record was not reflective of the century.

Which led to what some felt was a lot of woolly-minded thinking as it exposed the top-order to a variety of pressures and gave England an unlikely advantage when the breakthrough came. And Stewart did not waste too much time in pulling in a third slip to Mullally's bowling. It did just the trick as Graeme Hick pulled off an easy enough catch when Jayasuriya edged a delivery which bounce seemed to surprise him.

Sri Lanka lost it in almost eight overs as they subsided from 42 for one to their lamentable 65 for five with the departure of Aravinda de Silva for a duck. Ranatunga looking reflectively at the scoreboard must have wondered about the wisdom of splitting the two attacking openers.

Kaluwitharana was quick enough to put his runs on the scoreboard and went on to a half-century off 52 balls. His partnership of 84 with his captain was at least a show of defiance and that the lion had not been rendered entirely toothless by Mullally's effective dentistry assault.

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