An Upul-Mahela masterclass

Tharanga (174*) and Jayawardene (107) punish Indian bowlers at Sabina Park as Lanka score 348/1

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Kingston | Published: July 3, 2013 1:46:39 am

He’s a stylist with the attitude of a bullfighter,a purist with an abundance of spunk. He might be considered among the most elegant batsmen to have played the game,but relentless in his pursuit of scoring runs,Mahela Jayawardene doesn’t mind compromising on the aesthetics while he’s carving up a bowling attack like a cerebral assassin.

You’ll see him walk around his crease,get into ungainly positions and even attempt uncharacteristic swipes. But on days where he gets going,Jayawardene will ensure that memories of the not-so-pretty sights of his innings are overwhelmed by a treasure-trove of delectable drives,dabs,flicks and chip shots all around the ground.

And it happened to be one such day at the Sabina Park. The pitch in Kingston had proved to be a dull one for the opening two matches. And heavy overnight rain had put a dampener on the final league encounter of the Jamaica leg of the tournament. But the sun shone bright on Tuesday morning. And Jayawardene made the most of the conditions as well as the shoddy Indian bowling.

The former captain’s exquisite 107 might have been pushed to the background slightly towards the end with Upul Tharanga and Angelo Mathews massacring the Indians to push Sri Lanka to a mammoth 348/1 — the first time in ODI history that a team had lost only a single wicket in a completed 50-over innings. But while Jayawardene was at the crease,he was the cynosure,to such an extent that it didn’t matter what Tharanga was up to at the other end.

A slow start

Unlike against the West Indies,he started off slowly here. His first two boundaries were perfect examples of how the Lankan always puts effectiveness over style to maximise his scoring opportunities in the shorter formats. The first was a heave that only just managed to clear mid on. The second came off an outside edge and almost got him six runs. Then,after surviving a dropped catch,Jayawardene was into his stride. And there was no lack of eye-catching shots.

An outswinger from Ishant Sharma was deposited over the long-on fence. A sharp incoming delivery from Umesh Yadav was lifted over the extra cover region. And against Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja,Jayawardene used the crease-the depth and width of it-and his feet to thwart their challenge. He also used the reverse-sweep to great effect,and left an indelible mark with his final scoring shot,making room and hitting an Ashwin off break over the wide long off fence. This despite the off spinner bowling around the wicket and darting the ball into his pads.

Only as he walked back to the pavilion following his 16th ODI ton did the match situation really seem to matter. Such was the impact of the Mahela masterclass.

While his senior partner eased his way to a ton,Tharanga had played in rather sedate fashion. The seasoned opener has never really fit the stereotype of the elegant left-hander. In and out of the Sri Lankan team for a major part of his career,Tharanga has often been considered a flat-track bully,making up for a lack of definitive footwork with enviable hand-eye co-ordination and using his wrists and hands to score runs mainly square of the wicket. To their credit,the Indian seamers actually bowled well to Tharanga,never allowing him much width and sticking to a guarded line and length.

But by the time Tharanga lost his partner,he had his eye in. The Indians had been worn down by Jayawardene,and as they began to err,Tharanga made them pay. Skipper Virat Kohli,in his first ODI as captain,couldn’t have looked more clueless with his seamers in particular completely losing the plot. If he set fielders back on the on side,Ishant bowled short and wide. When Kohli decided to have his fine leg in,Shami Ahmed drifted onto Tharanga’s pads as India’s death bowling woes raised its ugly head again.

A Sprint finish

And as the Indians wilted,Tharanga and Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews tore into them and the boundaries never stopped. After taking 76 balls over his half-century,Tharanga scored 124 off the next 83 balls he faced,eventually ending up unbeaten on 174. Mathews was equally punishing,scoring 44 from 29 balls as the two added 135 off 68 deliveries.

At one point a blow-up ball rolled into the ground from the Jacuzzi in the party stand and Kohli playfully tried to use it as a comforter. You couldn’t blame him. For while the Sri Lankans were at it,all he looked capable of was to watch in awe.

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