SUPER 8s: Sri Lanka cook up a Twenty20 storm

Young Dhananjaya has given hosts more options

By Allaam Ousman, from Colombo

Sri Lanka got their World Twenty20 campaign back on track with a superlative performance in a pressure cooker Super Eight opener against New Zealand at Pallekelle on Thursday. 

Having been written off by some sceptics as a side lacking in imagination and intensity of purpose, Mahela Jayawardena led from the front to propel Sri Lanka to a historic Super Over win after the scores were tied at 174. 

His gamble of handing mystery spinner Akila Dhananjaya an international debut paid rich dividends with the 18-year old

bagging a couple including a wicket with his third ball. 

Mahela's faith in Lasith Malinga was also vindicated when the speedster bowled an immaculate Super Over.   

"For us being in a sitaution to having won the game and go back in the Super Over was tough. We kept our composure and just made sure we played some smart cricket. We executed our plan and Lasith bowled a wonderful over. I'm quite happy with the effort," said Jayawardena. 

On whether he would choose Malinga to bowl the Super Over again, Jayawardena: "In world cricket because he's got the experience because he has done it in various situations.

Another day he might go for runs but still you back your ace bowler and Lasith delivered today. It is good to have somebody who has control over that situation. Important that you are mentally tough and Malinga was one of those guys."  

Sri Lanka were always in control of the situation and it would have been a travesty of justice had they been denied a well deserved victory especially after the flying start given by openers Jayawardena and Tillakaratne Dilshan who completed 1,000 runs in Twenty20 internationals. 

The pair posted 68 without loss in the powerplay overs with Dilshan leading the way. 

Not to be outdone, Jayawardena also raised the bar to make 44 off 26 balls with three fours and three sixes during their partnership of 80. 

Dilshan paced his innings beautifully during his knock of 76 being content to play second fiddle when Kumar Sangakkara played a cameo of 21 which contained four boundaries. 

But Sri Lanka lost their way in the middle overs before scrambling to tie the match. 

"From the situation we were in, I thought we fought back very hard and we nearly gave up and fought to the bitter end," said New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor. 

"We still backed ourselves to win the game. I thought even with a bowler heavy attack, we put them under pressure after removing the big guns," he added. 

Indeed, the Black Caps for their part slowly but steadily built up a solid total with openers Rob Nicol and Martin Guptill giving them a sound start after electing to bat first. 

Jayawardena astutely rung in the bowling changes with Dhananjaya making a dream debut when he removed Guptill with his third delivery. 

"I think he is a good prospect. Obviously he knows how to spin the ball both ways. His action is hard to read. He has a good future," said Taylor when asked to rate Dhananjaya. 

Brendon McCullum smashed the first ball he faced from Dhananjaya over the ropes. 

But the youngster who was knocked down after failing to hold on to a Nicol shot. 

However, Dhananjaya had the last laugh when the batsman holed out in the deep after making a top score of 58 which contained four sixes and three fours. 

Three of those boundaries came in one over bowled by Ajantha Mendis who went for 48 in his four overs. 

This was perhaps the only blemish in Sri Lanka's fine all-round performance although Jayawardena refused to brood over it.  

He also shrugged off concerns about the wobble in their middle order. 

"I'll back my middle order any day. The more matches they get under their belt they will do well. This was the first opportunity they had in this tournament to get a good knockin a tough situation," he said. 

Asked why he chose to gamble with young Dhananjaya, Jayawardena said: "It's a gut feeling when you see a wicket, the opposition. I just wanted to give him a game in this tournament because he could not get a game in Hambantota. Now his jitters are hopefully over. He bowled really well for a young lad." 

Jayawardena also praised Dhananjaya for his bravery. 

"He came back even with the knock. I know he is a competitor.

When he got hit I thought he was gone. When I got close to him, he said 'Shit I missed that catch'. He was bleeding from his nose as well. That's the attitude," he said adding that

Dhananjaya was not seriously injured. 

Dhananjaya has also given Sri Lanka an additional option. 

"We can use him (Akila), Mendo (Ajantha Mendis), an extra batsmen and Rangana (Herath) is still there in the bench.

Options are there for us," he said. 

Jayawardena is aware the tournament can only get tougher as they line up against West Indies and England. 

"In Super Eights there will be close games. Credit to New Zealand. They played a very good game. We really had to scrap ourselves to get into this situation," he said. 

England also reminded Sri Lanka they are not pushovers as they came back from a hopeless situation to nearly pull off an improbable win against West Indies.

 

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