Contrasting Changes of Fortune

New Zealand came into their match against Sri Lanka today high on confidence following their spectacular opening victory over South Africa and further boosted by the return of two key players including star bowler Shane Bond, while Sri Lanka were still struggling to come to terms with their surprising defeat at the hands of a weakened Pakistan. Fortunes were reversed in Mumbai however as Sri Lanka showed their true ability in achieving a well-deserved and comfortable win, while New Zealand produced a performance well below their usual standard.

The life of a New Zealand supporter could be loosely compared to Sisyphus, a king in Greek mythology whose punishment in the afterlife was to roll a large rock up to the top of a steep hill only to watch in anguish as it rolled back down to the bottom every time. It would not be much of an exaggeration to suggest that the side New Zealand were preparing to field against South Africa was the closest to full-strength in most New Zealand supporters’ memories, but their hearts would have all sunk in unison as the news came out that Shane Bond had stiffness in his back and would as a result miss the match, and that Scott Styris would miss the match too.

But once again they rebuilt, scoring a resounding win over South Africa despite the injuries, and once again New Zealand supporters were filled with hope as the names Styris and Bond were included on the team sheet. Not only that, but Stephen Fleming won the toss and batted on a pitch that looked like it would be of more use to the spinners in the second innings than the first.

Down went the rock again however when New Zealand slumped to 118-9, with Styris’s return a mediocre at best 3. Like in the opening match against South Africa, in which Fleming played a lone hand with 89, there was just one player in New Zealand’s top order who performed well. This time it was not Fleming, who was dismissed by Chaminda Vaas without scoring, but Nathan Astle, whose 42 sticks out amongst the single-figure scores around him.

The top order had few excuses for this display, with little assistance being given to the pace bowlers, who were themselves not having the best of days as shown by the ten wides and seven no-balls conceded. But once Vaas, Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof had made the early breakthroughs, the stage was set for the slow bowlers to put Sri Lanka firmly in control of the contest. Perennial match-winner Muttiah Muralitharan obliged once again, taking four wickets in his ten overs for just 23 runs in a brilliant display of both flight and turn, and Sanath Jayasuriya once again took crucial wickets in his spell of 2-26.

With the score at 118-9, the match appeared to be over as a contest. Daniel Vettori had other ideas though and, ably supported by Jeetan Patel, who contributed ten in a partnership of 47 for the last wicket, played a superb innings to guide his team through to a competitive 165 and himself finish unbeaten on 46 when the innings came to an end with Patel’s wicket early in the 50th over.

With 165 on the board New Zealand appeared to have a reasonable hope, but needed early wickets. Unfortunately for them, 45 runs were scored in the six overs before the first wicket fell, with Jayasuriya playing a typically explosive innings at the top of the order. It could be suggested that Bond, who is undoubtedly a matchwinner at his best, was perhaps rushed back into the team, as he conceded 36 runs in his first spell of just four overs, including three no-balls and two wides. James Franklin, who conceded just 33 in ten overs against South Africa, can feel slightly unlucky in being left out of the team for this match.

The Sri Lankans taught the New Zealanders a lesson on how to bat on the pitch, very rarely looking in danger of giving away their wickets. Jayasuriya’s early blast was followed up by a partnership of comfortable accumulation between Upul Tharanga and Mahela Jayawardene, putting on almost 100 runs for the second wicket as they brought their team nearer and nearer to what increasingly looked like the easiest of targets. Finally with the score at 134 the partnership was broken, with Jayawardene caught on the boundary by Vettori off the bowling of Patel for 48. When Tharanga followed later in the same over for 56, a faint glimmer of hope appeared again for the New Zealanders but the lack of jubilance in their celebrations suggested that they knew it was too late to change the result of the game.

That did indeed prove to be the case, with Kumar Sangakkara and Marvan Attapattu safely guiding the Sri Lankans through the last 30 runs of their chase to record a seven-wicket win. It was an important win for Sri Lanka, putting their opening loss to Pakistan behind them and reminding everyone that they remain strong contenders in this tournament, while for New Zealand it was a worrying sign that the inconsistency that has plagued them over the last few years has not gone away. It is something that definitely needs to be sorted out if they are to be genuine contenders in a competition of this nature in future. If there are any encouraging signs to take out of it for New Zealanders it could be that Bond’s later spell was a much more promising one than his first, and perhaps that Jeetan Patel is continuing to develop as an ODI spinner, but the overall feeling for them has to be one of extreme disappointment as the rock rolls slowly back to the foot of the hill.

New Zealand 165 all out
Daniel Vettori 46 no, Nathan Astle 42
Muttiah Muralitharan 4-23, Lasith Malinga 2-22

Sri Lanka 166-3
Upul Tharanga 56, Mahela Jayawardene 48
Jeetan Patel 2-32, Kyle Mills 1-24

Sri Lanka won by seven wickets.

Cricket Web Player of the Match – Muttiah Muralitharan (4-23)

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