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The Electronic Telegraph Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe, Group-A
Rob Steen at Worcester - 22 May 1999

Sri Lanka lock up Zimbabwe batsmen

Sri Lanka ((198 - 6) beat Zimbabwe (197 - 9) by 1 wicket

Sri Lankan fielder Roshan Mahanama lets a catch slip from his hands

The test of a losing captain, Arjuna Ranatunga asserted after Sri Lanka's numbing defeat against South Africa, is whether he can ``turn the keys in his team's soul''. There were times yesterday when merely locating the lock seemed beyond him as he mooched from slip to cover, hands thrust deep in pockets, the body language that of a man already halfway home. How fortunate that Zimbabwe were in philanthropic mood.

At Grace Road on Wednesday, Alistair Campbell risked all by entrusting the final over against India to Henry Olonga after the dreadlocked fast bowler had hitherto served up all manner of rot. Cue three wickets and victory, apt reward for the most courageous decision of the tournament to date.

All that must have seemed light years away, however, as a combination of rashness and hesitancy conspired to undermine Zimbabwe here, two wickets falling to reverse sweeps, another two to hare-brained run outs.

Needing to win to maintain any further interest in the competition, the holders preferred the sprightly Eric Upashantha to the spin of Upal Chandana, then opted to field upon winning the toss on a crisp, sunkissed morning. New Road has seldom been more alluring.

Grant Flower was soon square-cutting and driving Chaminda Vaas to the perimeter boards but Upashantha, unrecognisable from the hatless fellow who donated five wides in one over to England's cause at Lord's, permitted fewer liberties. Wasted, arguably, as an opener, Neil Johnson did guide him elegantly through the covers but promptly scooped the next ball to midwicket.

Pramodya Wickremasinghe replaced Vaas and lost no time in making his mark. Paul Strang had just eased him for four through midwicket when the quasi pinch-hitter went to glide the following delivery, appeared to change his mind and played on. So far, so wretched.

Murray Goodwin, stocky and pugnacious, now joined the younger Flower and prosperity beckoned as they added 44 in nine overs. It would have been more but for the Sri Lankan fielding, which was far surer and more agile than it had been in the previous two matches; productively so when Goodwin turned Muttiah Muralitharan behind square only to respond to his partner's call with scant enthusiasm. Sanath Jayasuriya hit the bull's-eye and Goodwin declined even to wait for the official verdict.

This mishap appeared to prey on Flower, whose strokes now lost their calm authority, culminating in a seemingly absent-minded waft at Wickremasinghe.

In Wickremasinghe's next over Campbell, too, was caught behind, though his reaction inferred a healthy degree of displeasure. Having turned his back on the bowler, he revolved to see David Shepherd hoisting his finger. The victim's stare was long and hard.

Three overs later, Muralitharan, who has conceded fewer than three runs per over in three outings, gave his due for another immaculate exposition of the slow bowler's art. Guy Whittall tried to flick him to leg only for the ball to loop off the outside edge to slip, where Ranatunga clung on, then lost control as he cast the ball up in celebration, obliging him to complete the job with a belly-flop. The cathedral windows somehow survived the reverberations.

Four wickets had seeped away for 16 runs and Sri Lanka were cock-a-hoop. Gone was the resigned air that enveloped them while Lance Klusener was battering their bowlers the length and breadth of Northampton. Gone, too, was the sense of a team that had mislaid their self-belief. Typical of this was the vigour of the ground fielding, epitomised by a vicious return from Marvan Atapattu that almost skulled his captain.

The tide turned briefly as Andy Flower and Stuart Carlisle applied a tourniquet, then grew steadily in poise and ambition; the latter launching Jayasuriya for six as the 50 stand arrived in 10 overs. Whereupon the foot-shooting resumed; Carlisle hesitating after reverse-sweeping the same bowler to short third man and being run out by Vaas. Undaunted, Flower essayed an identical shot at the next ball to be caught behind as Romesh Kaluwitharana spun round and plunged full length.

The reverse sweep also did for Heath Streak, who looped Muralitharan straight down gully's throat. Eddo Brandes, attempting another highly optimistic run, would have preceded him had Kaluwitharana not knocked the bails off with his left shoulder. Instead, he remained to help Olonga clout 17 from the last over as Vaas erred in length. It should have been 19, but the umpires elected to ignore the crowd's persistence that Olonga's top-edged hook from the final ball had soared directly into their domain.

Zimbabwe's generosity showed few signs of abating when Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama set off in pursuit of 198. This was two fewer than the target Sri Lanka had been set by South Africa, but there seemed little reason on this occasion, on this pitch, against this attack, why they should not meet it. If nothing else, Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva were well overdrawn at the run bank.

Jayasuriya has rarely looked himself since breaking his right arm in Australia, but he was beginning to rekindle memories of his devastating derring-do three years ago when, facing Johnson's third over, he resorted to one of his trademark improvisations, the uppercut, only to pick out a gleeful Goodwin at third man.

Thereafter, though, the score surged by dint of a spate of wides and no balls, the former a persistent curse, as evinced by a table-topping total of 49 in the first two games.

The Sri Lankan supporters kept up their joyous chanting, whistling and drum-banging, only to be momentarily silenced when Whittall bowled Mahanama. As De Silva wended his way to the crease, the key was still in need of turning.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk