27th February 2000

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Lanka’s nose still ahead

The last 70 minutes proceedings in the opening day’s play left the first cricket test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan intriguingly placed though the tourists still had their nose ahead.

Sri Lanka, thanks to some disciplined and shrewd bowling, managed to skittle out Pakistan for 182 after Sanath Jayasuriya had won the toss and decided to field on a green top wicket. But the home team, spearheaded by Waqar Younis, led a spirited fightback by claiming the prized scalps of in-form Marvan Atapattu and Jayasuriya by the draw of stumps.

The tourists were 58 for two which could have easily been 58 for three had Aravinda de Silva not played a stroke of his life to safely negotiate a deadly banana-like yorker from Younis.

De Silva on 10 and Russel Arnold on 23 will take a fresh guard on Sunday morning. If Pakistan succeed to strike early, we are in for an absorbing second day’s play and possibly an exciting finish to the test.

But for that to happen, Pakistan badly needs the services of Wasim Akram who limped out with a groin injury only after bowling 2.1 overs. With the team management deciding to go in the match with just four frontline bowlers, Akram and Waqar Younis become even more important as they share 664 Test wickets between them. The statistics speak volumes of their experience and killer instincts.

Akram’s limping off doesn’t come as a surprise, at least to me, because I had been expecting that since the first one-day international. But, frankly I was anticipating that he would walk off citing back ache or stiffness once he had put a black back support.

Akram’s habit to quit the team when it badly needs him is not new. In 1995-96 against Sri Lanka when Ramiz Raja was the captain, Akram walked off after the first test at Peshawar and Pakistan lost the Faisalabad and Sialkot tests to surrender the series 2-1 after winning the opener. Akram took 10 wickets in that match.

The other point to prove Akram’s mischievious behaviour is last year when he was the captain, Pakistan played eight tests and more than 30 one-day internationals. Akram never broke down! It just can’t be coincidence that whenever Akram breaks down, he is not the captain.

Anyway, Akram’s internal problems with the team or the cricket administration, is just an additional bonus to Sri Lanka who played patient and planned cricket on the first day.

The bowlers, specially Chaminda Vaas and Pramodya Wickremasinghe, kept on feeding the impatient and flashy Pakistan top-order outside the off-stumps. They were rewarded for their calculated bowling when five of the seven top order batsmen were caught in the arc behind the wickets. Interestingly, wicket-keeper Romesh Kaluwitharana grabbing just two catches but Russel Arnold picking up three while fielding in the second slips.

And once the top order is dismantled by the pacers, the lower middle-order just live on the razor sharp edge if Muralitharan is bowling. The same was the story again and Muralitharan finished with four cheap wickets, including the scalp of Yousuf Youhana who was deceived by the drifter and ended up being caught at cover.

Wickremasinghe finished as the pick of Sri Lankan bowlers but I think Vaas was the real wrecker when he fooled Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail with real classic stuff. Wickremasinghe emerged as the real opportunist by pouncing the advantage to grab the wickets of Wajahatullah Wasti, Inzamam-ul-Haq, debutant Younis Khan and Moin Khan - all falling to reckless strokes.

Vaas has blossomed as a true wicket-taking bowler with the rest of the pacers just moving around him. He is the bowler who puts the initial pressure on the batsmen but unfortunately his partners capture more wickets as the batsmen tend to relax and try to take liberty from the other end.

I am a great admirer of Vaas and strongly feel that he needs to play at least one season in English County Championships. It is the place where the foreign players are supposed to perform in every match which induces more confidence in the player himself.

That self-confidence and habit to perform consistently pays dividends when the player comes to represent his team at international level. England is also a place where the guest players can experiment because of the bouncy and seaming tracks.

Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis are living examples.

Reverting to the day’s play, if the Sri Lankan bowlers did everything right and the fielders supported them brilliantly, Pakistan stroke-makers did everything wrong.

Saeed Anwar, after being tied down by Vaas, provided Arnold with some catching practice, Aamir Sohail barely made his presence felt before edging a Vaas delivery to Kaluwitharana. Wasti literally guided Wickremasinghe’s outswinger into the hands of Arnold which left Pakistan reeling at 59 for three after being 44 without loss.

Inzamam and Youhana repaired the damage by adding 66 runs but again poor stroke selection brought the downfall of the batsmen. Inzamam tried to flash a wide delivery to be caught at second slip, Youhana failed to read Muralitharan’s drifter, Younis Khan’s uncomfortable stay ended when he was beaten by Wickremasinghe’s slower delivery and Moin Khan perished while trying to throw caution to the wind and being caught by little Kalu.

Rest is all history.

But credit cannot be taken away from Sri Lankan bowlers for forcing Pakistan batsmen to play irresponsible shots. The bowlers were patient, kept on hitting the deck at the ‘don’t know zone for the batsmen’ and waited for the Pakistan batsmen to commit errors. And they were not disappointed by the Pakistanis.

All the batsmen, except Sohail, occupied the crease long enough but failed to put decent scores against their names. Anwar faced 49 balls, Wasti 66 deliveries, Haq 96, Youhana 77 and Younis Khan 55. But they forget that its not the balls faced that go into the scorebooks. Its their runs that decide their futures.

Initially, I think Pakistan went with a wrong approach. The team selection confirmed that they were defensive which allowed the Sri Lankans to dominate them. Six batsmen and four bowlers, including two aging pacers, is not the right combination to win tests.

Besides, I also believe that if five top order batsmen can’t deliver, the sixth cannot change the complexion either.

In addition to this, the selection of six batsmen is nothing but poor planning because Moin Khan, Abdur Razzaq and Wasim Akram are pretty useful batters down the order.

Sri Lanka can afford to go with three pacers and one spinner because their seamers are young and energetic. My point is proved by the fact that on the opening day, Vaas and Wickremasinghe equally shared 40 overs between them while Nuwan Zoysa turned down 13 overs. It is to be seen if Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram can bowl 20 overs in a day.

Normally, the fate of the test is sealed after first day’s play. Sri Lanka definitely enjoy the cutting edge over Pakistan but they still have to put a stranglehold over this test. Therefore, after only tomorrow’s game it will be clear whose way the test is heading.

But I have a feeling that Sri Lanka may emerge as ultimate winners because Akram is unfit which leaves Pakistan bowling ineffective and depleted. The batting is already under tremendous pressure.

Thurstan - Isipatana Old Boys match

The annual Thurstan/Isipatana Old Boys limited overs cricket match played for the Priyantha Kulasekera Memorial Trophy will be played at the BRC grounds at Havelock Park today, Sunday February 27.

Each team is expected to field six players over 35 years of age and the others over 25 years of age.

The chief guest at this match will be C.N.Kulasekera the father of Priyantha. The Thurstan team will be picked from. Brig., Upali Bandaratilleka, Amitha de Costa, Daya Boteju, Hayalath Aponso, Deepal Maddurapperuma Sathya Jayasuriya, Tilak Hettihamu, Sirosha Gunatilleka, Anura Atukorale, Varuna Samarasinghe, Ajith Kariyawasam, Sujith Ariyapala, Krishan Dharmasena, Saman Akrawita, Gamini Nanayakkara and Mackenzie Perera.

Nalanda - POW draw

The inter-school encounter between Nalanda College and Prince of Wales College ended in a draw at Moratuwa yesterday.

Nalandian pace bowler D. Jayawardana captured a match bag of seven wickets.

Nalanda College 169 and 212/8 ( N. Danusinghe 68, P. Jayawardana 43 D.D. Fernando 3/56 J. Gunaratne 2/45)

Prince of Wales 149 all out. ( S. Wijeratne 35, S. Rajitha 35 n.o. D. Jayawardana 7/40) (SMD)

Pakistan hit back

Bernie Wijesekera reporting from Rawalpindi

The high-flying Sri Lankan cricketers again displayed a concerted team effort to have the Pakistani batting in tatters on the first day in the first Test match played here today.

Skipper Sanath Jayasuriya winning the toss invited Pakistan to bat first on a lively pitch most helpful to the seam bowlers. Both Vaas and Wickremasinghe bowling with speed and venom had the batsmen struggling for survival. Backed by some excellent close-in fielding where Arnold was most outstanding with three catches in the cordon and a superb catch at deep long off a gutsy hit from Wasim Akram. The game took with Pakistan losing five wickets for 47 runs. Both Akram and Razzaq, got out for poor shots. Pakistan were all out for 182 in 73.5 overs. ‘Wicks’ was the most economical with 4 for 38 in 20 overs. Vaas took two for 54 and Murali 4 for 45 caused the debacle.

Pakistan hit back with vengeance when Waqar Younis sent in a snorter in the last ball of his first ever over to dismiss anchorman Marvan Atapattu, held low down in the slips by Wasti for eight (with two fours) - nine for 1. Disaster befell the Pakistanis when Wasim Akram broke down after bowling the first ball in his third over with a groin injury and had to hobble out. Razzaq completed the over. Arnold joined Jayasuriya.

The pair played some positive strokes to beat the gaps to prop the total. Jayasuriya on 17 attempted to slash Waqar past point, but offered Moin a simple catch. He had three fours made in 21 balls. Waqar bowling with fire supported by Razzaq had both Arnold and Aravinda de Silva in troubled waters. A stunning ‘yorker’ hurled by Younis to Aravinda would have gone through the gate, but he was lucky to survive. Both Arnold and Aravinda batted with immense concentration to the close to take the total to 58 for two in 14 overs. Arnold was on 23 (two fours in 57 minutes, 38 balls) while Aravinda made 10 n.o in 30 minutes.

Sri Lanka batsmen have to show tremendous concentration to build a big score to consolidate their position to get a sizable lead on the first innings to dictate terms. The Lankans have a very good chance of making it. The first hour’s play today is going to generate much fire and sparks as the Pakistanis will keep all cylinders firing even without Wasim Akram on the field.

Waqar Younis, who has made good with his second chance to enhance his place with figures of 7-0-32-2.

Aravinda batting with composure along with Arnold should hold the batting together in the early part of the morning where the Lankan bowlers called the tune yesterday.

There should be a bigger crowd to watch the second day’s play in this result oriented pitch.


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