By Thilak S. Fernando

The second match of the Emirates Triangular series cricket played at Lords grounds on Sunday 16 August was a humiliating defeat for Sri Lanka, who are currently the International World Champions of the game. The remarks that emanated from the Lords Sky TV commentary box towards the end of play confirmed that ‘there was no exceptional individual performance’ and Sri Lanka can be written off’ from next years International Cricket championship tournament’ !

Sri Lanka, getting crushed by England in an international, gave the jubilant England players who had hardly any time to celebrate their victory over South Africa, a much needed inspiration, determination and courage to work on a positive approach in the future.

Over- confident statements made by the Sri Lanka captain during the toss in the morning that ‘ we are confident to chase opponent scores’ had literally to eat his own words in front the TV cameras which transmitted to millions of Sky TV sports watchers throughout the world when he gave three specific reasons for his team’s defeat: “ We bowled badly, Our fielding was terrible and we did not capitalise on the opportunity.”

England on their part displayed how professional they were with a good all round performance. Their strategy to knock the Sri Lankan opening wickets during the first fifteen overs of the game paid off at the end when Sri Lanka started to collapse and were struggling to avoid embarrassment by at least getting 191 runs ( achieved net run rate) to qualify for the final game on Thursday. By this time Sri Lanka were 158 for eight wickets.

When Sri Lanka started to bat in the morning they had to achieve a run rate of 4.96 per over to beat England, but as the good & dependable batsmen at the top started to fall like match sticks & the score rate began to dwindle to unbelievable two figure numbers, the gap widened more and more making it crystal clear that the chance of scoring even 191 runs was only a dream until the last two batsmen, especially Muralitharan arrived on the scene.

Scoring the highest runs in an international Muralitharan started to punish the bowler with a long shot over the ropes, immediately followed by a boundary and two runs, scoring 14 runs in three balls. This not only saved the face of Sri Lankan world champions as they barely managed to scrape through the 191 mark but made the Sri Lankan spectators who were in a somewhat sombre mood to wake up from their slumber and to rejoice even momentarily.

So what went wrong with the Sri Lanka world champions at Lords in August 1998? Could Mahanama, a professional with adequate international experience, have saved the side had he been playing today ? Could he have been a prominent missing link? Will this be taken as reminder or a lesson to Sri Lankan Selectors and the Board of Cricket or will they be rigid and arrogant in their usual manner? These were the topics discussed over pints of beer at Lords by thousands of Sri Lankan spectators who paid £44 (over Rs.4500) and came to cheer their national team.

According to Mike Atherton Sri Lanka could be a dominant force while playing in the sub-continent on flat pitches and conditions suitable and familiar to them, but at Lords it’s a different kettle of fish, the conditions being quite different with bouncing balls (especially playing with a white ball) & it was not the same. However, at the end of the day Sri Lankan batsmen at the lower order closing the gap and losing the game only by 36 runs merely shows that Sri Lanka still has got her valuable human resources in the game to forge ahead with overall experience from selection to playing on the field.

Did Sri Lankans who paid exorbitant ticket prices to fill the Lords grounds to disprove the England decision makers’ theory that ‘ Sri Lanka are not crowd pullers’ get their money’s worth? The pricing of the entrance tickets was regarded as ‘ top heavy’ for a Sri Lankan match even by some of the cricket commentators. While this question remained debatable one player who got his money’s worth was Alex Stuwart, winning England Captain, who collected a fat cheque for £10,000 which goes straight into his bank account. Greham Hicks who managed to score 86 runs in 96 balls to Sri Lankan bowlers was chosen as man of the match and rewarded with £1500 .