Mar 312014
New Zealand blindsided as spin takes hold

After removing Sri Lanka for 119 it all looked set for New Zealand to book a semi-final place, but things were a little different in Chittagong’s final match of the tournament

Brendon McCullum was stumped, New Zealand v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong, March 31, 2014

Brendon McCullum charged and missed at Rangana Herath: New Zealand never recovered © Getty Images

When Brendon McCullum skipped towards Rangana Herath and aimed a scything blow down the ground, it carried the intent of a team’s star player embossing his mark on the game. What followed certainly set the tone. Unfortunately for New Zealand, it was Herath who turned out to be the match-winner.

Herath had already executed a run-out off his own bowling when McCullum arrived at the crease. New Zealand’s captain defended a couple before Herath’s fifth delivery went on with the arm to strike the pad, resulting in an excited lbw appeal. The next was tossed up and this time it dipped, gripped and slipped past McCullum’s outside edge, leaving him short of his ground. New Zealand had been struck a blow they would not recover from.

In Herath’s following over, still having not conceded a run, three consecutive deliveries thudded into Ross Taylor’s pad, the last of which no umpire could deny. With a short leg and a slip in place, his next ball insinuated its way through a befuddled Jimmy Neesham and New Zealand were four down, pinned likes flies on a windshield by the dawning realisation that this was the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury pitch, Jim, but not as we know it.

Two tracks have been in rotation in Chittagong, with four matchdays apiece. The pace and bounce had encouraged McCullum to suggest New Zealand, South Africa and England would prefer the conditions, particularly in the evening when dew helped the ball zip on. Sri Lanka were spectacularly burned by England and Alex Hales on Thursday but, after two weeks of competition, the ground suddenly shifted under New Zealand’s feet. Their misfortune, perhaps, was to face a must-win game on a worn pitch against the only subcontinental side in the group.

McCullum certainly felt a little blindsided, though he stressed that the better team on the night had won. Winning the toss and then bowling out Sri Lanka for 119 seemed to have given New Zealand a brightly lit path to the semi-finals but the ball held up a lot more than previously, while the absence of dew meant Sri Lanka’s spinners were not handicapped in the same way they were against England.

“The wicket was completely different,” McCullum said. “We anticipated it to skid on as it has done right throughout every game that has been played here and every team that has won the toss has wanted to chase at night. We expected that to happen but it was really dry, almost a little bit underprepared, the way it played towards the end, and we didn’t adapt our games quick enough.

“There were some soft dismissals, poor options, myself included and we couldn’t find the balance between being aggressive enough to get us a start chasing a small total, and conserving wickets and trying to stem the flow of their momentum. In the end the team that won and qualified for the semi-finals is a far better team than us.”

The groundstaff had been using a spray to try and reduce the effect of dew but this appeared to be the first evening match on which it had any affect. “We found out midway through the game that the outfield was sprayed for anti-dew, which obviously hasn’t been done throughout the rest of the tournament, so that was a bit of a surprise as well,” McCullum said.

“I think as long as the conditions are consistent throughout, so the teams can get a strategy and an understanding – it’s disappointing to see them change so much in one game but we should have been better than that as well. Certainly no sour grapes from our point of view, we certainly should have chased down 120 and only getting halfway is nowhere near good enough.”

With Herath barking out time like an army drill instructor, McCullum’s side were whirled into oblivion, bowled out for the lowest total by a Full Member side in T20 internationals, despite Kane Williamson making 42 – more than two thirds of their runs. Williamson was New Zealand’s leading batsman at the tournament, as more explosive team-mates such as Martin Guptill, Corey Anderson – who did not bat against Sri Lanka after dislocating his finger – and to a lesser extent McCullum failed to fire.

“Batting at No.3 and the role that I’ve played for us for a period of time, we rely on me to make contributions and running down the wicket and getting stumped for nought trying to create some intensity in that first six overs was not ideal,” McCullum said. “At two down, I still thought we were going to chase 120 but I’m disappointed not to make a contribution and to get out like that as well. I still thought we should have chased it… at least got a lot closer.”

Defeat revived memories of New Zealand’s recent troubles in Bangladesh, where they were whitewashed in ODIs for the second time late last year. They were not among the World T20 favourites, nor were they the side a majority of the crowd came to cheer on. The dreaded presence of the Mexican wave rippling around the stands suggested how easy Sri Lanka had made look what should have been a difficult game.

Having stumbled short of the winning post against South Africa earlier in the group, when they only need seven off the final over with five wickets in hand, McCullum acknowledged that improvements would be required if New Zealand are to produce the desired challenge on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.

“I said right at the outset that we were going to have to play well, right from the start of the tournament. We’re not good enough to only play at 80%. There’s been some things that irked me throughout the tournament and I’ll be addressing those later. But I thought our cricket smarts weren’t there, when you’re playing on these surfaces that are foreign to what we’re used to and the nature of T20, you’ve got to be very smart and decisive with your decision-making as well.

“You can’t afford to be lacking in cricket intelligence. That’s what I think we lacked in this tournament and hence we coughed up some opportunities to win games that we should have. Something is going to have to change at some stage, otherwise we’ll keep turning up a tournaments, winning a couple, losing a couple and never claiming any silver. That’s not what we play for and something’s going to have to change if New Zealand’s going to start winning major tournaments.”

Mar 312014
More to Herath than meets the eye

With one of the great T20 spells, Rangana Herath ensured Sri Lanka’s hopes for that elusive World T20 title would not wither just yet

Rangana Herath had figures of 5 for 3, New Zealand v Sri Lanka, World T20, Group 1, Chittagong, March 31, 2014

“As batsmen trudge off, they know Rangana Herath is good, but few understand exactly why or how” © Getty Images

Mystery has ruled spin bowling in the Twenty20 age. Short-format slow bowlers are no longer measured by how far they can spin the ball, but in how many directions. As the Sunil Narines and Saeed Ajmals of the world leave batsmen groping open-mouthed in their wake, the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin wonder if they are not being too square. Orthodoxy still works, but this new stuff is dynamite.

To label Rangana Herath a throwback to cricket’s black-and-white days would be glib. He was, after all, the modern progenitor of the carrom ball, even if his prototype version of the delivery would never compete with the sleek new models. There is, of course, a charming devotion to tradition in Herath’s method; he is a zealous disciple of flight, a long-time servant of dip and spin. But to say there is more to Herath than meets the eye would not just be an ironic comment on his figure. The enigma of his success is as emphatic as the unknowns that shroud any doosra or flipper.

As Herath slammed the opposition top order into the turf in Chittagong, New Zealand’s batsmen committed to more wrong lines than a drunk at a karaoke bar. The pitch took more turn than it had all tournament, but it was hardly spitting square. Slow bowlers would almost certainly have had more value for their revs up north in Mirpur, yet, there New Zealand’s batsmen were, feeling for the ball, prodding like they could not pick the man who only spun it in one direction all night.

After the match, Herath was telling television presenters there was nothing more to his haul than “bowled the ball in the right place”. It is the reply he always gives, but 217 Test wickets in, does anybody still believe it? Five wickets for three runs are not figures befitting a bowler who simply put the ball on a length. Positive batsmen, drenched in form, do not stall and scatter at the sight of such uninspiring diligence.

So what gives? In Tests, Herath’s prey is lured gently. He bowls one from out wide, another in front of the stumps, flighting the first, darting the second, adding threads as he goes, before the batsman is strung up, suddenly, dead in the web. He cannot build an insidious narrative in four T20 overs, but in Chittagong, he had condensed that mode of attack, and therein found the means to make fools of New Zealand’s two most experienced batsmen.

He flighted one up to Brendon McCullum’s off stump to show him the appreciable turn first, then angled a slower one on the pads. McCullum dared not hit against the spin so early, especially if Herath had ripped it in. Another flighted, turning ball on off stump, then a dart – the first one – on the pads. The ensuing appeal was correctly turned down, but having delivered four dot balls now, Herath knew McCullum’s next move long before the batsman made it. He floated one up wide of the stumps, as McCullum charged out. The ball dived and turned to beat the blade.

Ross Taylor, arguably the better player of spin, was outmanoeuvred even more forcefully. From the first two balls, Herath determined Taylor could not pick which one would turn and which would slide on, so he alternated between them, raising two appeals in the first four balls, before nailing him with the fifth. Herath was a step ahead as he beat both batsmen, first in the mind, then off the surface. That he is accurate and artful is plain, but as batsmen trudge off, they know he is good, but few understand exactly why or how. New Zealand’s top order have known the feeling before.

“In the past Rangana aiya had dismissed their top order batsmen,” Lasith Malinga said after the match. “Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor struggle against him. I had hoped to get him into the attack as soon as possible. He was successful and my decision was too.”

Malinga may simply have been committing to the ruse with that statement, for although he is the captain on the team sheet, he was not the man who set Herath’s fields. Mahela Jayawardene had Sri Lanka’s reins, and no matter who walks out for the toss on Thursday, they would be wise not to relieve him of them.

So often the flagbearers for fight in global events, New Zealand encountered a man whose fire consumed their own in Chittagong. Sri Lanka had made each of the last five semi finals in global events, and with one of the great T20 spells, Herath ensured hope for that elusive title would not wither just yet.

Mar 312014
Rangana Herath is some kind of homicidal capybara

As assassins go, Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath is sort of chubby and non-threatening looking. However, after taking five wickets for three runs in 3.3 overs, New Zealand were left feeling like they’d been gummed to death by a capybara. If that weren’t enough, there were two run-outs while he was bowling as well.

It was soft, dreamlike carnage, like choking on blancmange or being smothered by Egyptian cotton with an unusually high thread count. Full credit to the captain for bringing him on so early. Nominally, that captain was Lasith Malinga, but being as he didn’t seem to know his team at the toss and judging by the flailing arms of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara in the field, that was little more than an honorary position.

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Jan 202014
Pakistan pull off thrilling run-chase to square series

Published: 6:30AM Tuesday January 21, 2014 Source: AP

Azhar Ali hit a superb century as Pakistan notched a thrilling five-wicket victory against Sri Lanka by scoring a rapid 302 for five in the third Test today to level the series 1-1.

Ali blazed 103 off 137 balls with six fours and captain Misbah-ul-Haq remained unbeaten on 68 off 72 balls as Pakistan romped home with nine balls remaining on the last day for its second best run chase in test matches.

In Pakistan’s only other successful run chase of more than 300 runs, it defeated Australia by one wicket in 1994 in Karachi while chasing 314 runs.

Ali shredded Sri Lanka’s bowlers and set up the chase with a run-a-ball 89 for the fourth wicket stand with Sarfraz Ahmed (48) before putting on a match-winning 109 off 119 balls with Misbah.

“We clearly decided we are going for it at any cost, whether we lose 2-0, no problem,” Misbah said. “After youngsters (Ali and Sarfraz) had done their partnership, it was easy to score a run a ball.”

Earlier, Prasanna Jayawardene made an aggressive 49 before Sri Lanka was bowled out for 214 for an overall lead of 301 and left Pakistan with 59 overs to get victory.

“It’s an amazing victory because we haven’t won many games while chasing like that,” Misbah said.

Sri Lanka won the second test by nine wickets after the first test was drawn.

Pakistan needed 195 in the last 35 overs after Suranga Lakmal (3-79) had removed openers and reduced Pakistan to 107-3 by tea.

Ahmed justified his promotion ahead of Misbah and turned the tide in favor of Pakistan by not even sparing ace spinner Rangana Herath (0-100) on a very flat wicket.

“We should have got more than 260 (in the second innings),” Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said. “They were desperate to win because they were 1-0 down but our batting failed. I can’t blame the spinners, it was more our batters’ fault.”

Ahmed departed in the 37th over when he gloved a legside catch off Shaminda Eranga but Misbah continued to push the accelerator as Sri Lanka’s bowlers had no answer to stop the Pakistan batsmen from scoring at a brisk pace.

Ali raised his century off 133 balls but edged Lakmal under fading light with Pakistan needing only seven runs for victory as Misbah hit the winning run in the next over off Eranga.

Earlier, Lakmal cut short Ahmed Shehzad and Khurram Manzoor’s brisk starts of 21 runs each and captain Angelo Mathews got rid of Younis Khan (29) to restrict Pakistan by tea.

Khan added 49 runs with Ali, but in search of quick runs he pulled Mathews straight to Kumar Sangakkara at short mid-wicket.

Resuming at the overnight score of 133-5 on the last day, Sri Lanka’s tailenders frustrated Pakistan before the second innings eventually ended on 214 at lunch on the last day.

It gave Sri Lanka a lead of 301 runs after Pakistan conceded an 87-run first innings lead.

Jayawardene hit six fours and added 62 runs with Mathews (31) before he was caught close to the wicket by Ali off Saeed Ajmal (3-53).

Mathews had not added to his overnight score of 14 when he survived an lbw appeal against Mohammad Talha (3-65) as Pakistan’s luck seemed to have run out.

Jayawardene made Sri Lanka’s intentions clear from the outset by scoring at a brisk pace as he added 56 runs in the first hour with Mathews.

Left-arm spinner Abdul Rehman (4-56) struck off successive deliveries to dismiss Dilruwan Perera and Rangana Herath, but Eranga successfully defended the hat trick ball.

Herath got a golden pair in the match when he was caught by Younis Khan in the slips without scoring after the left-hander was also out for first ball in Sri Lanka’s first innings of 428-9 declared.

Sri Lanka’s last wicket pair frustrated Pakistan for nearly five overs before Ajmal finally wrapped up the innings when Eranga top-edged a cut to Rehman at point.

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