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Bearding the lion in its own den

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36th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first ever Test match at Lord’s – Part 2

by Rohan Wijeyaratna

By now it was clear Gower and the selectors had grievously erred in under estimating the visitors, while over-estimating themselves. Far from being overawed, Sri Lanka had risen to the occasion and set in motion a prolonged leather hunt, that was fast becoming an embarrassment to England. As they drearily dragged themselves on to the field for the third successive day at Lord’s, the truth slowly dawned upon all, that England hadn’t seen off even half the visiting side yet.

The only wicket for the day

But let’s not get too far ahead of the story. The wicket of Ranatunga midway through the second afternoon was the only success England enjoyed on day two. Possessing a composure and temperament that was well beyond his years, Ranatunga played a commendable hand for one so young in consolidating the Sri Lankan middle order. He enjoyed some luck along the way when Gower spilled him in the gully when on 66, but by lunch on day two, Sri Lanka were healthily placed at 271 for three, with Ranatunga on 74 and Wettimuny on 137. England had toiled hard in the morning session for no return.

Reputedly, the English crowds are the fairest in the world. It is a repute they wear very well. On this occasion they were genuine in their appreciation of the Lankan batting, even though it was at the expense of their own team. Tragically, with a Test hundred at Lord’s beckoning him, Ranatunga playing forward to Agnew, allowed a shaft of light to remain between bat and pad and was castled through it. He had made 84 in 248 minutes of batting, having added 148 for the fourth wicket. Sri Lanka were 292 for four, when Duleep Mendis walked in.

 

 

Unfinished business

 

Mendis knew he had some unfinished business in England. As previously mentioned (The Island – 23rd May, 2020), he could have won his side a famous victory nine years before, in the inaugural Prudential World Cup, but by knocking himself out via his own outer edge to a Thomson ‘screamer’ at a time when he had the Australian attack by its throat, he failed to fulfill that dream. That was when fate intervened and prevented what threatened to be a major tournament upset, when he and Sunil Wettimuny were involved in a furious attack on Ian Chappell’s men. Now at Lord’s, Mendis had Sunil’s younger brother for company and the stage could not have been better set for him to deliver a vintage ‘Mendis Special’. The wicket held no terrors; the bowling was near pedestrian; his team was well placed, and the man at the other end was looking like the Rock of Gibraltar by the minute! In short, Mendis could not have asked for a better setting to make the stage, indubitably his!

 

A man apart

 

England on the other hand seemed reminded that Mendis met his nemesis in 1975 whilst hooking. Thanks possibly to some old rope well swallowed, their bowlers determined they would give him a working over, with the short ball. Accordingly, Allott began with a hurried delivery that pitched and arrived head high to Mendis on an inconvenient off stump trajectory. Somewhat taken aback and definitely hurried, the batsman managed a reflex hook down to long leg – a shot of no great conviction. This encouraged all other leather flingers to smack their lips, dreaming of possibilities. Soon it was Agnew pitching short at Mendis. Back and across went the portly skipper, picking up the ball from his off and hooking it down to long leg for four. Agnew bowled slightly short again and Mendis – now going back, smoked it venomously wide of extra cover for four, to bring up the 300. With each shot he now played, Mendis assumed greater authority. Agnew next bowled a more fullish length and Mendis drilled it right back at him, like a blast from a cannon. It was a stinging blow and technically a chance, though Agnew had no hope in hell of catching it. A back footed square slash to a wide, short, Agnew delivery seemed almost violently dismissive. Everyone by now had come to realize they were watching a very special passage of play in the match, and a very special person enacting it. Everyone had also begun to realize that Duleep Mendis was a man apart, from those who preceded him.

But England hadn’t still lost hope. On came England’s man for all seasons – Ian Botham; now specifically tasked to remove this bothersome Mendis. It took no great intelligence to figure Botham would try and bounce out Mendis, and it took no even greater intelligence to figure, Mendis would accept the challenge. The crowd was expectant. The moment of truth had arrived.

 

Mendis versus Botham

 

A languid drive from Wettimuny to deep point brought him on to 154; the highest score by any batsman in his country’s first Test in England. It also brought Mendis on strike. Botham resuming, ran in and delivered. It was a mean bouncer on the off stump and curving in; head high and rising. There was a flurry of activity and in the blink of an eye the ball had disappeared into the Mound stand backward of square for six! The momentarily stunned crowd now broke into loud cheer. Not to be outdone, Wettimuny in the next over from Ellison, gloriously executed a cracking cover drive off his back foot to bring up his best score in Test cricket – 160 off 383 balls in 514 minutes of batting. The ball was now back in Botham’s hand for the following over.

Botham with his best days of pace behind him, was still, stubborn as a mule. He hadn’t probably heard that in the far outposts of the great empire, there were men who were no respecters of reputations. Possibly with such a bulldog mindset, Botham ran in and bounced again. Out came the hook shot in a flash; six more over square leg and into the Mound Stand! Although visibly wounded, Botham was still not ready to give up. Repositioning the two men he already had for the shot on the leg side boundary, he bounced one last time. It was on a middle and leg line and inconveniently close to Mendis’ head. Mendis undaunted, hooked yet again! The ball evaded the two men on the fence and ended up in the Mound stand for a third successive time. A visibly angry Botham was now seen muttering some ‘unprintables’ at his captain, for no doubt persisting with this daft idea of bouncing Mendis out. The Lankan skipper had now moved to 49, hammering three sixes off Botham in two overs and leaving no one in any doubt as to who was bossing the show in this particular contest. With each of his blows over the ropes, the crowd erupted, and with the third, the cheering rose to a crescendo. This was sensational stuff! Duleep Mendis the Lankan lion had bearded the British lion in its own den! At tea, Sri Lanka were 370 for four with Mendis on 52 and Wettimuny on 173.

 

Ran ‘em ragged

 

It took only 14 balls after tea for play to be suspended through bad light for 94 long minutes. Hence when play resumed, close of play was extended well beyond six o’clock. Between Mendis’ arrival and the eventual close of play, the score had surged by another 142 runs with Mendis making exactly one hundred of them. They came off 112 deliveries and mostly in fading light; sometimes almost too dark to recognize the dusky Sri Lankan skipper from 22 yards away! Thrice Mendis refused the offer of light and finally when he accepted, it was only after he had reached three figures. By now he had shown that between him and those that came before, there was a clear distinction. While most of the others applied grace and beauty from a bygone era around their technical correctness, Mendis’ method remained simple. He either blocked it or smashed it. And there was nothing vulgar about it at all. It was just that when in the mood he had this god given ability to reduce any bowling attack to pulp, without slogging. Simply put, Mendis ran England ragged. He was without doubt, the master of all he surveyed, that afternoon.



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New Zealand Tour of West Indies

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Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph set up West Indies five-wicket win

On a surface aiding the bowlers, Akeal Hosein made merry with a devastating spell of 3 for 28 in 10 overs while Alzarri Joseph too picked three wickets, bundling out the visitors for just 190 in the 46th over. The chase was not straightforward by any stretch of imagination, but Shamarh Brooks’s calm 79 off 91 balls ensured West Indies tasted rare ODI success in the series opener in Barbados.

Given the tricky conditions, Martin Guptill and Finn Allen made a circumspect start, until the seventh over when the latter took on Jason Holder to clobber one four and two sixes. New Zealand got to 40/0 in 8 overs when the passing showers halted play briefly. Though the break was hardly for 10 minutes, it allowed West Indies to regroup and make quick inroads right after play resumed. First to go was Allen, as he danced down to take on the left-arm spinner Hosein, only for Nicholas Pooran to run back from extra cover and take an excellent, diving catch.

Hosein took out Guptill in his following over to dent NZ further. New Zealand struggled for partnerships from there on as they fell from 53 for 2 to 116 for 5, even as Kane Williamson fought on from one end. That endeavour too was brought to a premature end, as Alzarri Joseph dismissed him for a 50-ball 34 – that ended up being the best batting effort for New Zealand in the game. A 40-run stand for the seventh wicket between Michael Bracewell and Mitchell Santner, followed by a 20-run alliance between Santner and Tim Southee pushed New Zealand past the 150-run mark and close to 200. But Southee and Boult fell in successive overs, leaving New Zealand with 190 in 45.2 overs.

Four balls into the chase, rain arrived again. But this time too it was passing showers that kept the players off the field for 15-odd minutes. When they returned, the senior duo of Boult and Southee saw the back of the West Indies openers by the sixth over, pushing West Indies on the backfoot early in chase. Up stepped Brooks to forge solid partnerships to defy the New Zealand bowlers as he and Keacy Carty added 37 for the third wicket off 48 deliveries. But Santner trapped him leg before to keep the pressure on the chasing side as they were down to 74 for 3. What ensued was the match-winning partnership between Brooks and his captain Nicholas Pooran, as they batted out the next 14.3 overs to add 75 runs.

Southee then came back with some success, as he induced an inside edge off Pooran’s bat that wicketkeeper Tom Latham pouched low. Brooks, who’d got his half-century during his partnership with Pooran, was set to see his team through to the finish line, before Boult too returned to clean him up. But at 149 for 4, New Zealand’s strikes were too little too late. Jason Holder and Jermaine Blackwood – who was playing in his first ODI since 2015 – saw the team through with five wickets and 11 overs to spare.

(Cricbuzz)

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Rabada five for floors England 

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Rex Clementine at Lord’s

There aren’t too many lethal bowling attacks in the world than South Africa’s. Well spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada, captain Dean Elgar can turn to Anrich Nortje if he wants extra pace or rely on the versatile Lungi Ngidi for control. If variety is what the South African captain is after, he can bring on Marco Jansen, the left-arm quick. Given such a pace attack, the spin option of Keshav Maharaj becomes indispensable and he wasn’t required to bowl as England were shot out for 165 in their first innings.

The Rainbow Nation is well represented with blacks, whites and coloured players forming the nucleus of the attack. Rabada finished with a five wicket haul, becoming the fourth South African since readmission to get his name in the Honours Board; others being Allan Donald (2), Makaya Ntini (2) and Vernon Philander. How Shaun Pollock and Dale Steyn missed out is indeed a good question.

Rabada had overnight batsman Ollie Pope dropped in the first over of the morning but eventually he cleaned him up for 73. The fifth wicket came when James Anderson was trapped leg before wicket, a decision the batsman unsuccessfully reviewed.

Nortje, probably the quickest bowler in the world at the moment, claimed three wickets while Jansen had two scalps. The 22-year-old from Potchefstroom is considered the next big thing in South African cricket. It’s said he could go onto fill the boots of Jacques Kallis but if he could achieve half the things the great all-rounder finished with, South African cricket will benefit immensely.

South Africa had moved to 27 for no loss at lunch. The first day had been interrupted by bad weather with just 32 overs possible.

Sri Lanka have been well represented at Lord’s Test with former captain Ranjan Madugalle functioning as Match Referee while Kumar Sangakkara is a commentator with Sky. The ex-skipper has signed a three years deal with the host broadcaster replacing Michael Holding.

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Emma Raducanu routes Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati

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British number one Emma Raducanu produced another eye-catching display as she routed former world number one Victoria Azarenka less than 24 hours after beating Serena Williams.Raducanu continued her preparations for the forthcoming defense of her US Open title with a 6-0 6-2 win in Cincinnati.

The 19-year-old played Belarusian veteran Azarenka just 18 hours after beating Williams, who will retire after the US Open, 6-4 6-0 on Tuesday.Raducanu faces Jessica Pegula next.The Briton, ranked 13th in the world, will meet the American seventh seed in the last 16 of the Western and Southern Open on Thursday.

“I was playing a great match for sure and to play Vika I had to stay focused throughout,” said Raducanu, who beat 22nd-ranked Azarenka to earn her first top-30 win since last year’s US Open.

Raducanu stunned the sporting world with her unexpected triumph in New York last year, when she became the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title in what was only her fourth senior tournament.

The victory propelled the previously little-known teenager into global superstardom, but she has since faced the difficulties often encountered by young players in their first full season on the WTA Tour.Regularly hampered by fitness issues this year as she adjusts to the rigours of the senior tour, Raducanu arrived in Cincinnati with a record of 11 wins and 14 losses this season.But with her fearless and accurate ground strokes, she has so far shown a similar level in the WTA 1000 event to the one which led to her success at Flushing Meadows.

Pegula, however, is likely to provide a sterner test – and a more accurate appraisal of Raducanu’s current level – than Williams or Azarenka.In what was her first career meeting with 23-time major champion Williams and likely to be the last, the teenager clinically took advantage of the 40-year-old’s lack of sharpness by hitting 14 winners and making just one unforced error in a ruthless victory.After that night session, Raducanu returned to Cincinnati’s centre court against 33-year-old Azarenka and produced another dominant display.

The forehand continued to be a potent weapon, while she was also helped by wayward returning from the two-time Grand Slam champion.After cruising through a 26-minute opener to record a second straight bagel, Raducanu raced into a 4-0 lead in the next set, before Azarenka finally got on the scoreboard with back-to-back holds.She offered a little more belated resistance when Raducanu served for the match, earning two break points and saving a match point before the Briton wrapped up victory.

“In the second set I could feel the important moments and a couple of turning points that could have made the second set really difficult,” added Raducanu.

“I am really pleased with how I dug in, and serving it out in that last game was really difficult.”

American teenager Coco Gauff has played down the seriousness of the ankle injury which forced her to retire from a first round match against Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova on Tuesday.With her home Grand Slam looming, the 18-year-old said it was a minor sprain that “should be healed very soon”.

Romania’s Simona Halep pulled out of the Cincinnati event with a thigh injury before Wednesday’s match against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, while Polish world number one Iga Swiatek, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Tunisia’s world number five Ons Jabeur reached the last 16.

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