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

An Upset Too Far For Zimbabwe
John Ward - 22 May 1999

Another World Cup upset was just too much for Zimbabwe at Worcester and Sri Lanka’s victory means Group B is now wide open. As captain Alistair Campbell admitted after the game, it was Zimbabwe’s batting that let them down. Everybody knew that Sri Lanka had the talent to overturn the form book and win the match, but nobody expected that it would be the often maligned Sri Lankan fielding that would make that vital difference between the teams.

The sun was shining intermittently at Worcester as Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka warmed up for their crucial World Cup match. The match was particularly critical for Sri Lanka, for whom defeat would mean almost certain elimination after the first round. For Zimbabwe, victory would mean probable qualification for the Super Six.

Sri Lanka won the toss and, as expected, decided to field. The consensus of opinion was that the pitch would not change too much as the day went on, and so the toss would not be too vital. It appeared to be quite a good one-day pitch but, as usual at Worcester, with a bit of seam and swing throughout.

Johnson lofted Vaas' second ball over mid-on for two, but generally the batsmen were content to dig in as the ball seamed around. Grant Flower in particular allowed a number of balls to pass his off stump, but the umpires called few wides; perhaps after so many wides in the first two rounds the umpires generally have been reprogrammed.

Johnson hit a fine boundary through extra cover off Upashantha, but then skied a pull to be taken at Wickramasinghe. Strang did not succeed in his role as a pinch-hitter this time, being bowled by Wickramasinghe, replacing Vaas, for 5. Strang, with his unorthodox approach, tried a forcing stroke with an angled bat to a ball which moved in sharply, and played on off the inside edge.

Goodwin, after a remarkable run of scores between 15 and 30, settled in well, and a better score for him seemed in the offing, when there came the first of the two crucial run-outs which changed the course of the innings.

Muralitharan came on to bowl, and Goodwin turned his second ball towards backward square leg to take a single, only to be completely taken unawares and run out by a brilliant throw from Jayasuriya to the bowler's end. Then came another vital blow for Sri Lanka, as Grant Flower, slashing hard at a fast delivery from Wickramasinghe, was adjudged caught at the wicket for 42, and Zimbabwe were in some trouble at 81 for four.

Campbell, in his hundredth one-day international, announced his presence with an imperious cover drive for four - no need to run. He then played at the next ball from Wickramasinghe, which moved away sharply off the pitch, and appeared to show dissent on being given out caught at the wicket by umpire Shepherd.

The Sri Lankans were really bubbling with zest and excitement by now, and it remained to be seen whether they had recovered enough of their verve to force their bolt home. The Sri Lankan spectators were also chanting with animation. Whittall struggled to get off the mark, but finally snicked a ball from Murali uppishly through the vacant slips to the boundary. The gap was filled, and then another snick from Whittall resulted in a tense juggling catch by Ranatunga. Whittall obviously was unable to read the ball that went the other way.

Murali had just started his spell and was already causing great trouble among the Zimbabwean batsmen as Carlisle was completely beaten by his first ball. Sri Lanka at this stage looked very much on top. However, after six overs Ranatunga rested Muralitharan, which may have been a mistake, as Carlisle settled in well and shared a good partnership with Andy Flower.

The stand of 68 was only broken by another brilliant Sri Lankan run-out. Carlisle reverse-swept Jayasuriya to Vaas, who like Jayasuriya himself threw superbly to the bowler's end, to find Carlisle just short of his ground. Carlisle had made a most commendable 27. Off the very next ball Andy Flower went on the sweep and the ball lobbed up for the keeper to take. Umpire Bucknor judged that the ball came off bat or glove. Again, as with previous decisions when the Zimbabweans stood their ground, the television replay was inconclusive. Flower made 41, and Zimbabwe were staring at disaster at 162 for eight.

Sri Lanka missed the chance of another run-out as Brandes, very slow out of the starting blocks, could have been dismissed easily had wicket-keeper Kaluwitharana broken the wicket with his gloves rather than his shoulder. This being modern international cricket, he appealed anyway, but the television replay clearly showed that it was not a genuine dismissal.

Otherwise the two pace bowlers decided to play safe against the enthusiastic Sri Lankan attack, with no make-or-break scoring attempts. Streak decided that assault was the best policy when Murali came on to bowl his final two overs. Aiming for a six, he skied a ball high on the leg side, where a difficult catch was dropped. Then he tried an unnecessary reverse sweep, which only succeeded in hitting a catch straight to Atapattu at backward point.

In the final over Brandes lashed out at Vaas, hitting him for a six over long-on, a one bounce four over extra cover, and causing him once again to lose his run-up for the next ball, which was eventually hit to third man for two. A single to long-on left Olonga facing the final ball, which he hit high over long leg for six, apparently into the crowd, although the umpires later signalled four.

Zimbabwe opened their bowling with purpose, Sri Lanka their batting with determination. Zimbabwe have several times bowled out opponents unexpectedly when defending comparatively small totals, while Sri Lanka have only to look back to their last match to remember how, against South Africa, they bowled themselves into a strong position, let things slip a bit, and then lost the match.

Zimbabwe's opening bowling was much better in this match, with Brandes and Johnson bowling some testing deliveries and beating the bat several times. The Sri Lankan batsman were forced to be wary, with even Jayasuriya showing little sign of his usual flamboyance. However, his patience did not last long. Cutting fiercely but uppishly at Johnson, he hit a low catch to Goodwin near the third-man boundary and was out for 6, leaving Sri Lanka at 13 for one.

Sri Lanka proceeded rather uncertainly as Zimbabwe's bowlers gave them a hard time. There was considerable applause when Mahanama broke out to hit Brandes for the first four of the innings, although it was an uppish stroke just clear of midwicket's left hand. The second boundary was even more fortuitous, a snick off Johnson evading the keeper down the leg side. He then lashed a ball through the covers for a third, along the ground but misfielded by cover.

Streak replaced Brandes and was immediately exercising the umpire's arms with deliveries swinging too wide of the stumps. Johnson then got in on the act with some of his own, and Zimbabwe's old problems were back again. Atapattu at last found his confidence and Sri Lanka began to reassert their hold on this match. Then Whittall suddenly produced a fine yorker on the off stump that beat and bowled Mahanama for 31.

De Silva, battling to find his form, tried to pull Whittall, but only succeeded in hitting a catch straight to his cousin Andrew, fielding as substitute at midwicket. De Silva had not looked comfortable for his 6 runs. Shortly afterwards, Atapattu enjoyed a life when the keeper missed a low catch off Olonga, and in this case it may have turned the match. Olonga himself missed a possible run out against Ranatunga as the batsmen scampered through to bring up the 100. Ranatunga gave evidence of his greater fitness for this tournament by refusing to call for a runner at this stage, nor after running a quick two for a leg glance off Whittall. Or perhaps he was exhausted, for he misjudged a slower ball from Whittall and popped up a fairly simple return catch after scoring only 3. Sri Lanka were 108 for four, and the match right back in the melting pot.

Jayawardene began with two boundaries, one turned through midwicket and the other slashed just over the upstretched hands of backward point. Then a series of silly misfields allowed the batsmen to pick off some easy runs, and Sri Lanka settled down again. Atapattu reached his fifty with a cracking drive through extra cover, and both batsmen appreciated the easing of the pressure, batting with increasing fluency.

Once again the match seemed to be slipping away from Zimbabwe, and then once again the unexpected happened. Atapattu slashed once too often, and Campbell at slip took a very sharp catch with apparent nonchalance. He had scored a valuable 54, and Sri Lanka were 150 for five.

Shortly afterwards, Streak got a ball to move back in sharply to Jayawardene, hitting him on the pad and winning an lbw verdict. He had made 31, Sri Lanka were down to 157 for six and Zimbabwe were into the tail. Once again it was anybody's game.

Kaluwitharana and Vaas battled on for Sri Lanka, looking mainly bat ones and twos without any extravagances. As Zimbabwe scented possible victory, their fielding improved and there were some brilliant saves. Olonga on the boundary stopped and threw superbly throughout the innings.

The end came suddenly. A thunderous four over mid-on by Vaas off Olonga, followed by a higher slog that almost carried for six, broke some of the tension, taking Sri Lanka to within 13 runs of victory. Then came a lucky snick for four past the keeper by Kaluwitharana, and Sri Lanka were almost home. Kalu slogged Strang for a four to cow-shot corner, followed by three singles, one to a misfield, and Sri Lanka were home.

Sri Lanka's crucial match will be the one against India at Taunton on Wednesday; for Zimbabwe it will be England on Tuesday. Defeat for either will almost certainly result in their elimination after the first round.

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