You could almost see the century coming, from the time Kumar Sangakkara strode out to the middle.
Lahiru Thirimanne batted as if he had just woken up from a nightmare, the white cricket ball treated with suspicious apprehension, if not a little dread. And it wasn’t as if the ball was doing a great deal – a little bit of movement, a little bit of bounce. Nothing undue or alarming.
Even as Tillakaratne Dilshan seemed in the middle of a net session, Thirimanne appeared nervy and uncertain. Alasdair Evans did Thirimanne a favour by having him caught at second slip and putting him out of his misery; he had, however, done his team no favours at all by thus heralding the arrival in the middle of the man who can do no wrong at the moment.
The Bellerive Oval, scarcely populated as it was, was treated to another masterclass from the master craftsman, as Sangakkara became the first batsman to score hundreds in four successive One-Day International innings. The main course was sumptuous, obviously, but no less delicious was the treat thrown up by Dilshan, who helped himself to his second hundred of the competition.
This Pool A match had always threatened to be a bit of a no-contest. Dilshan and Sangakkara, with a little help from Angelo Mathews, who tonked Matt Machan around for fun, made sure the script held true; despite losing 4 for 10 during a late-innings slump, Sri Lanka galloped to 363 for 9 against Scotland in their final league encounter after Mathews won the toss.
Playing in their third World Cup, Scotland had lost all 12 games preceding this one. There was little chance of them correcting that anomaly on Wednesday (March 11) as they faced the stiffest chase in their ODI history. Sri Lanka predictably romped home, though they didn’t have things all their own way. Preston Mommsen finally did justice to his reputation and Freddie Coleman, one of three changes for this game, played some wonderful strokes so that Scotland replied spiritedly. But, as the last six wickets tumbled for 53, the Scots nosedived to 215, and defeat by 148 runs.
As a result, Sri Lanka climbed to second in the Pool A table, but most likely only temporarily, given that Australia still have to play Scotland at the same venue on Saturday.
Lasith Malinga drew first blood with the second ball of the chase, Kyle Coetzer following up his 156 against Bangladesh with a duck, and Nuwan Kulasekara packed off Calum MacLeod. When Machan was trapped in front by Dilshan, Scotland appeared headed for a collapse until Mommsen and Coleman baulked them through a combination of pluck and luck.
Dushmantha Chameera worked up excellent pace but suffered on account of lack of luck and accuracy, allowing Mommsen and Coleman enough freedom to play their strokes. Mommsen was predominantly legside while Coleman was more all-round as they stitched together an entertaining fourth-wicket stand of 118 – only the third century partnership for Scotland against a Test nation – which kept Sri Lanka at bay for an hour and a quarter.
Taking a shine to Seekkuge Prasanna’s legspin, Richie Berrington also punished a Sri Lankan outfit flat and profligate with the ball, very ordinary in the field, and without Mathews, who left the park early in the chase with an Achilles problem. Misfields and overthrows abounded, as did rank short deliveries, and Kusal Perera put down Coleman at sweeper cover to deny Chameera only his third ODI wicket. It was all never going to be decisive, but Sri Lanka wouldn’t look at their bowling and fielding in this game with any great fondness. Apart from the fact that Sangakkara completed 500 ODI dismissals as wicketkeeper and fielder, and that he became the most successful stumper in World Cup play.
All this after Scotland had been bled dry by a man so much in control of his skills that if you woke him up in the middle of the night, gave him a stump and asked him to go bat, he would middle the first ball, and every one since. The beauty of Sangakkara’s batting stems from the ease with which he picks the gaps, and the lateness with which he allows the bat to make contact with the ball. He is seldom ugly at the crease; Sangakkara is all timing and placement, old school in this day and age of bruising ball striking.
Dilshan suffered only in comparison. After a poor start that netted him just 24 runs in his first two outings, Dilshan has come into his own with scores of 161*, 44 and 62. Not exactly in the Sangakkara league of 105*, 117* and 104 correspondingly, but there is pretty much no one in the Sangakkara league at the moment. Dilshan was the early aggressor as Sangakkara fluently hit his stride, a punch through straightish mid-off first ball faced a clear indicator of how well the left-hand No. 3 batsman is seeing the ball now.
Dilshan’s creamy drives on the up, particularly off Josh Davey, who had climbed to the top of the wicket-takers’ chart by the time the carnage ended, were particularly delightful as he clambered on to the front foot and took the ball on top of the bounce. Despite the boundaries flowing, Scotland bowled with discipline through Rob Taylor. The left-arm quick, who came in for Iain Wardlaw, held his own while going for just 46 in his ten overs so that while Sri Lanka were untroubled, the board wasn’t quite rattling along.
The momentum shift came in the 25th over. Davey was hammered for 17 with Dilshan smashing him for two fours and a six. That was the start of a sustained period of complete domination; Dilshan and Sangakkara took the bowling apart in their own different but complementary ways, the former with a broadsword, the latter with the rapier.
Dilshan was the first to 50, off 54 deliveries, and Sangakkara followed him a little later, and slower – off 56. Then, Sangakkara switched gears. The fours flowed in a torrent, the sixes came when he so desired. There were delightful inside-out cover drives, especially against the offspin of Michael Leask, and peachy drives over the top in the V off the quicks. Dilshan, smart enough to understand and accept that he was clearly overshadowed, played well within himself.
Dilshan pipped Sangakkara to the century by one ball, but took 97 to the latter’s 86. Davey accounted for Dilshan with the second legal delivery of the Power Play to end a stand of 195 in just 179 – the two had also added 213* against Bangladesh and 130 against Australia previously – but Sangakkara then lay into Evans with a six and four fours in an over that yielded 24. There was one outrageous slap over point that landed well beyond the rope, and two cheeky scoops walking across his stumps. Inventive, but Sangakkara lent even those strokes a touch of orthodoxy.
He ultimately fell chasing a wide one from Davey, one ball after Mahela Jayawardene was caught off a skier at mid-off. Sangakkara was Davey’s 14th victim of the tournament, helping him move past the New Zealand duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee as the highest wicket-taker.
Sri Lanka were far from done. Mathews smashed four straight sixes over midwicket off Machan on his way to the joint second fastest fifty of this World Cup, in 20 deliveries. Despite a late flurry of wickets as MacLeod and Coleman held three catches apiece, Sri Lanka hammered 229 in the last 25 overs, Scotland well and truly batted out of the game.