Stray thoughts on Sri Lanka’s victory over New Zealand, 18 March 2011

Michael Roberts

Pic from

Sri Lanka’s comprehensive victory over New Zealand in the last match for Group A at Mumbai was marred by a controversial third umpire decision that reprieved Mahela Jayawardene when he was in his twenties. This verdict certainly had a bearing on the game and was a moment of high drama.

 Cricket’s beauty emanates in part from its contingent twists of luck/fate. The abrogated Nathan McCullum catch – what a wonderful piece of fielding that! – was one such landmark that turned the match in Lanka’s favour. But no one has noticed another act of fortune that decisively favoured New Zealand: namely Upul Tharanga’s run out at the bowler’s end off a Dilshan drive. Along with a helmet or cap falling on the wicket, this is about the unluckiest way to get out. Occurring early in the innings this sort of moment boosts the bowling side in ways that cannot be measured.It is to the credit of Sangakkara and Jayawardene that they stabilized the innings, albeit without assurance at times. This is where the Jayawardene-McCullum incident not only favoured Sri Lanka, but transformed Jayawardena’s batting form: thereafter he moved up two gears and scored 40 more runs in silken fashion till he missed a ball that he should have put away.

This spell of batsmanship included two late glides through lip that drew plaudits from the commentators (who misled everyone by calling them “late cuts” –because a late cut is bat over ball, a different piece of finesse).

The Contretemps

While I have always been in favour of camera technology being utilized to assist umpires, the one area where it generates problems is in what can be called “possible brush/bump ground catches.” Here, camera obscura enters in and favours the batsman.

   The facile acceptance of the camera’s evidence on this issue over the years was only disturbed when it occurred in a Sheffield Shield Final in Australia and favoured a batsman who went on to score a century and turn the match in his team’s favour. Camera technology has improved since then, but problems still remain.

   On this occasion I would abide by Tony Greig’s non-partisan verdict: the Third Umpire made a mistake. I add, though, that the camera did suggest a smidgeon of doubt. It was not an issue of the ball bouncing, but whether the ball brushed the turf between McCullum’s spread of fingers – that is between the two that grasped ball and the other two fingers.

    An incidental note should be attached to this incident: why do TV directors’ permit two men from the same nation on the field to be commenting at the same time? Even with the best will in the world, subjective sentiments intrude at critical moments like this. Some individuals are more controlled than others; but no matter whom, the basic principle should be this: avoid having two blokes from any of the competing sides at the TV microphone at the same time. Justice must be seen to be done.

   Despite his own protestation, Simon Doull’s leanings were starkly manifest. As Greig’s verdict indicates, it was reasonable enough for Doull to dispute the umpire’s verdict, but to argue in bump-ball terms, as distinct from brush-the-turf terms, is poor analysis directed by sentiment.

   As partisan was his upbraiding of Jayawardene from the verbal clash with McCullum. Certainly, the camera captured Jayawardene saying something and McCullum retorting. But Jayawardene had no need to initiate comment and most people would conclude that McCullum said something to which he responded. As usual with such confrontations, whether on cricket field or rugby match, it is the second moment of a contretemps that is caught on camera and the guy who started it all gets off scot-free (from referee, umpire and public).

    Another sidelight can be raised. Both Nathan McCullum and Ross Taylor confronted – yes, it was so confrontational, though never going overboard to the degree displayed in the Gatting-Rana and Ranatunga-Emerson incidents – the on-field umpires after the final decision was delivered. A speculative question arises: would other captains and sides have approached the on-field umpires in the same manner? Ponting and Australians would have certainly been even more aggressive? But others? The West Indians? Bangladeshis? Sri Lankans if the boot was on the other foot? Are there differences in cultural style and degrees of “aggro”?

The Match: Additional Comments in Point-form

  1. Sangakkara has been remarkably steady and consistent not only in his batting not only in the World Cup, but also in the domestic and West Indian matches leading up to the series. He deserved the man of the match ahead of Muralitharan.
  2. Sangakarra got out to a poor shot; he should have been aiming over the bowler’s head not at cow-corner. Fatigue provides a good excuse; but Sri Lanka can ill afford such errors in games ahead. When the side is negotiating the last ten overs, it is the responsibility of the batsman whose eye is in to stay there as anchor around whom the others try and accelerate. That batsman should concentrate on rotating the strike and then encourage new batsmen to innovate after settling in with a few singles. Dilshan or Tharanga also let the side down by getting out at Pallekele at such an important stage. That is after one got out, the other had to anchor the final chase.
  3. When Jayawardene got out, Mark Nicholas made an apposite comment: “the Batting Power-Play strikes again.” Fortunately, Sangakkara made up for this loss by a series of magnificent strokes.
  4. But, then, the middle order showed how brittle it is – with the exception of Matthews.
  5. Thilan Samaraweera also failed on this occasion. However, he has revealed how useful he is to the side in the Australian match when he helped steady the ship and scored at a reasonable rate. Again, in his two late-innings two cameos against Canada and Zimbabwe he actually scored at a S/R of over a hundred and easily outshone Tissara Perera.
  6. Chamara Silva is the main worry in the middle. His incapacity to produce singles as he starts batting is a liability. A McCullum full toss was hit straight back to the bowler and the next ball went the same way – as a catch.  His uncanny ability to middle the ball straight to the fielders square of the wicket was revealed during the match against Pakistan at the Premadasa. While a policy of steadying the ship was required when he went into bat then, with four wickets down, his low strike rate eventually cost us. I wonder whether his wagon-wheel over the last two years will display the restricted range of his scoring strokes?
  7. Chamra Silva seems to be a shadow of Chamara we saw during the 2007 (and rather reminiscent of Jayawardene and Arnold during the 2003World Cup in South Africa).
  8. So, Kapugedera must now displace Chamara Silva in the XI.
  9. I was supportive of the Selectors’ choice of XV in an essay written early in February. I understood their preference for experience as indicated by the selection of Tharanga and the two Chamaras over Chandimal. Now, after meeting people in Lanka, I believe Chandimal should have been slotted into the XV as a middle order batsman who can power-hit. It is a good principle to have one spirited young gun in a squad of XV – witness Shafiq in the Pakistan XV, Bishoo and Russell in the Windies squad.
  10. I further believe Jayasuriya should have been in the side for one of the two Chamaras on the understanding that he is selected as a bowling allrounder slotted to bat at 5-7 according to circumstances.
  11.  This would have left Samaraweera to stead ship when required and then a choice of Matthews, plus Chandimal or Jayasuriya, as power finishers
  12.  On the bowling front in the New Zealand Muralitharan was clearly one of the key figures in undermining New Zealand. But do not forget Kulasekera. Look at his figures: 7-0-19-1, the important wicket of Martin Guptill and a superb economy rate.
  13.  Aided by an excellent catch by Mahela Jayawardene, Mathews chipped in with the critical wicket of Brendon McCullum, a guy who is the Kiwi version of Sehwag.
  14.  So, the downfall of the Kiwi batting was a team effort, marred only by two difficult catches missed by Tharanga and Kulasekera.
  15.  Despite Ajantha Mendis’s success in this match, I would have preferred to have Suraj Randiv in the XV. A batting tail of Malinga, Murali and Mendis is simply too long.
  16.  Malinga’s erratic bowling and expensive E/R is a continuing concern. As with many pacemen, his penetrative possibilities come at high risk. [Shaun Tait’s figures during the World Cup in fact indicate that he has been a liability thus far].
  17.  Lasith Malinga is a model for all bowlers in the manner with which he responds to fielders’ catch-errors or batsmen boundary hits off his bowling: he smiles amiably and nonchalantly. One may question his hair style, but his panache and sportsmanship is of the best.

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