Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sangakkara century drives Sri Lanka to 238

Kumar Sangakkara's straight-drive clipped the bowler's fingers and found Sanath Jayasuriya short of his ground...

Kumar Sangakkara has been promising something special all series and he delivered in Adelaide with a fighting, exhausting century that pushed Sri Lanka to a competitive 6 for 238. Mahela Jayawardene contributed 71 in a lopsided innings that featured three run-outs and only three batsmen who reached double-figures.

Sangakkara was eventually caught on the boundary for 128 and it was a perfectly judged innings after his side fell to 2 for 6 in the third over. It was also a thoroughly tiring effort in weather that hovered around 38 degrees and by the end he was taking every opportunity to crouch and catch his breath with 50 overs of wicketkeeping ahead of him.

His fatigue was understandable; until a late blitz brought Sri Lanka 61 in the final eight overs Sangakkara had pushed within reach of his century with only five boundaries, which meant an awful lot of running between wickets. He was so intent on building a solid platform that when he swept a four off Harbhajan Singh in the 36th over it was his first boundary in 21 overs.

Eventually he became more aggressive and his century came up from 141 balls with a flick for four through midwicket off Munaf Patel. Chamara Silva chipped in with a late 21 but it was Sangakkara's day as he posted his first ODI hundred in a year.

Not only was Sangakkara the man who rebuilt Sri Lanka's innings, he was also the person India had to thank for two important wickets. Playing straight is generally regarded as a sound batting policy but Sangakkara must have been tempted to switch to cross-batted slogs after his straight-drives caused the run-outs of Jayawardene and Sanath Jayasuriya.

Jayawardene had combined with Sangakkara for a 153-run partnership and a race to triple-figures was on the cards when a drive clipped the fingers of Praveen Kumar and ricocheted onto the stumps, finding Jayawardene short on 71. The previous wicket had fallen the same way - Sangakkara's straight shot glanced off Munaf's hand and a half-asleep Jayasuriya was dawdling out of his crease.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, there were 35 overs between those second and third wickets as India failed to capitalise on their strong start. Sri Lanka were wobbling when Jayasuriya departed for 0 following the loss of Tillakaratne Dilshan, who feathered a Munaf outswinger behind in the first over. When Jayawardene joined Sangakkara it looked for a while like they had no plan other than to survive.

They crawled to 2 for 21 from ten overs as Munaf and Ishant Sharma probed, and there were some nervy moments for Sangakkara. He edged just wide of the sole slip in Kumar's first over and was lucky not to be run-out by Yuvraj Singh when the bail took an age to dislodge, but importantly for Sri Lanka the pressure began to ease.

Boundaries were still scarce - none came for ten overs until Jayawardene swept Harbhajan in the 24th - but India seemed content to let the game drift on. Before they knew it both the batsmen had somehow built half-centuries - Sangakkara's from 88 balls and Jayawardene's from 74.

For a team that failed to chase down 204 on the same pitch two days ago, India appeared surprisingly unconcerned that the partnership kept growing. They thought they had Sangakkara caught when he bunted Kumar to midwicket on 53 but Peter Parker correctly ruled the full toss was above waist height.

Jayawardene shook the crowd out of its slumber when he advanced to Ishant straight after the mandatory ball change and dragged him over long-on for six. There were not many fans at the ground and the Australian television audience was also minimal after Channel Nine declined to show the game and it was broadcast only on pay television, but the viewers thought they were about to get some fireworks.

But Sangakkara's accidental removal of his captain led to another drifting period. Things picked up again after he reached his first ODI century since Rajkot last February. On that occasion he set up a chase that was out of India's reach and his team hoped he had done the same again in Adelaide.