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Lankans revel in Bloemfontein

For one team, it was like playing in their own backyard. For the other, it was a test of adaptability. Quite expectedly, Sri Lanka came into their own in the congenial environs at Bloemfontein.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2003 02:20 IST

For one team, it was like playing in their own backyard. For the other, it was a test of adaptability. Quite expectedly, Sri Lanka came into their own in the congenial environs that Bloemfontein offered and ran out winners by 47 runs against New Zealand in Bloemfontein.

Sri Lanka thrive in conditions straight out of the sub-continent. Their performance is directly related to the nature of the track. During their recent trip to Australia, Sri Lanka struggled on the seaming tracks, even losing twice in a day to an Australia-B team in warm-up games.

Their batsmen struggled to put bat to ball in alien conditions. But when the caravan shifted to Sydney, which houses the pitch that is conducive to slower bowlers, it was a dramatic turnaround, with the team renewing its acquaintance with victory.

It was no coincidence that the team blossomed in helpful conditions in Sydney. On Monday, the Sri Lankans found that playing in Bloemfontein was like playing at home, roses, roses all the way, a path strewn with co-operation and success.

New Zealand captain Stpehen Fleming blundered in inviting Sri Lanka to bat first. He was living in a cuckoo's nest. Asking the opposition to bat first was good strategy in seaming conditions back home when his bowlers could bend the ball like a banana and take the early wickets to exert pressure on India. But not in Bloemfontein, where the track looked like it would help the spinners.

Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori's omission was also shocking, particularly on a track that had all the signs of being slow and low. It just shows that the best of mortals can err and Fleming will have ample opportunity to rue these mistakes at leisure. Sri Lanka seized the mantle through Sanath Jayasuryia. The captain flowed like a rampaging river against the Kiwi attack. He is the centrifugal force of the Sri Lankan team. His batting is not orthodox, the willow slicing the ball from underneath to give the elevation as it races away. Clearly, as far as Jayasuriya is concerned, his policy is to be the hammer rather than the anvil.

Besides, he picked the gaps as if he were threading a needle. Yet, Sri Lanka finished at least 20 runs short of what seemed likely. It was disappointing, for Hashan Tillekeratne stayed till the very end after having replaced Marvan Atapattu at the crease. He should have put his skating shoes on and shouldered the responsibility of accelerating the scoring rate so that the Sri Lankans could dictate terms. When chasing a target like 273 on a pitch that was progressively becoming slow, it was imperative for New Zealand to get to a good start since strokeplay was always going to be difficult after the ball lost its shine.

When the ball became soft, it started holding on to the surface, and made it hard for the batsmen to manoeuvre it easily. Losing early wickets took the wind out of New Zealand's sails. It was always on the cards that the slower Sri Lankan attack would thrive in these conditions and tighten the screws on the Kiwis. Scott Styris did play a fine innings but he was ploughing a lonely furrow, particularly after Aravinda de Silva lured the dangerous Chris Cairns. It is hard not to recall that the Black Caps were firing on all cylinders back home against the Indians last month but were exposed as an ordinary side when the conditions did not suit their bowlers. They learnt that it is difficult to dance on a crooked floor. Perhaps, they were paying the price for choosing to play India on grassy tracks in the recent one-day series - not the ideal preparation for a World Cup where scores in excess of 260 seem to be the order of the day. Make no mistake, teams from the sub-continent will come into their own in this World Cup. And Sri Lanka has just fired the first salvo. (TCM)

First Published: Feb 12, 2003 02:20 IST