Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lankan Rabbit outruns English Trottoise

Angelo Mathews may yet turn out to be a good captain for Sri Lanka. He pulled a rabbit out of his hat in the game with England. When bowling all-rounder Nuwan Kulasekara walked out to bat at the fall of Mahela Jayewardene just before the batting powerplay, expert commentator Sunil Gavaskar was apoplectic - he would swing and miss, Sangakkara at the other end would be denied the strike, another wicket would encourage the English... All of those happened initially, except for the dismissal of Kulasekara. Instead, once he started connecting with his robust swings at the ball, Sangakkara was quite happy to be off strike. Kulasekara is not an everyday pinch-hitter - he is a smart cricketer, with a lot of experience in ODIs. His presence of mind was evident when he turned and ran back towards the danger end when Sangakkara stumbled while going for a second run. Kulasekara picked his shots and the bowlers to target. His consecutive sixes off Swann completely deflated the fielding side. In the end, the English looked shell-shocked as Sangakkara and Kulasekara romped home to victory with three overs to spare. It's easy to praise a move that's worked, and Angelo would probably have got fried if the Kulasekara promotion had backfired. But the thinking behind it was pretty sound, actually, regardless of the outcome. Sri Lanka needed to score at nearly eight an over ahead of the powerplay when Jayewardene got out. This was a tricky situation because a new batsman would take a few balls to get set and Sri Lanka could not afford to be conservative in the powerplay. Sangakkara would have felt compelled to up the ante and might have thrown his wicket away. So the advent of a nothing-to-lose risk-taker Kulasekara also meant that Sangakkara could stick to his role of anchoring the chase till the end. The gambit was therefore perfectly timed and well worth it. And to Kulasekara's credit, he made it work and how! The Lankan victory also exposed the weakness in the English strategy of going along at 4.5 an over to keep wickets in hand for a dash in the last 15 overs. Jonathan Trott's anchor role is reminiscent of Rahul Dravid. India too lost many an ODI by playing a bit too conservatively on easy tracks. If England had played a more risk-taking game from the outset, they would likely have crossed 300 on that good Cardiff wicket as MS Dhoni's merry band had done earlier. On this track, the English tortoise Jonathan Trott was no match for the Lankan rabbit Nuwan Kulasekara. On another day and another pitch, it may well be the other way round. It shows that you can't be too rigid with your tactics.

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