Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jayasuriya & Kandamby - A tale of two left-handers

Like the bad guy in any number of horror flicks, who keeps coming back no matter how many times you hurt him, Sanath Jayasuriya just refuses to go away. Asked by a journalist going into this series about the disappointing failures of Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara replied matter-of-factly: "We all know what Sanath can do and what he has done. We have to give him every chance to get back in there and score runs."
Jayasuriya's stroke-filled 98 - he has seven centuries against India, and averages 37.00 against them as against a career average of 32.69 - was a forceful retort to those, this writer included, who questioned his ability to come up with the goods after a scratchy last few months.
There are many vital decisions a captain has to make, and when playing day-night matches in Sri Lanka, calling correctly at the toss is one of the most important. Jayasuriya began as he meant to, driving RP Singh on the rise over extra cover and pushing another four back past mid-on. Aside from a thick outside edge that flew wide of slip when he was on 13, Jayasuriya was basically in control. Three boundaries swatted off RP in the tenth over were coated in the arrogance which forms an intrinsic part of any legend's armoury.
Today, Sri Lanka lost Tillakaratne Dilshan, their most successful batsman in recent times, and then the crucial pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara in relatively quick succession. India's bowlers were threatening to mount a vice-like grip on proceedings, with an inexperienced duo to follow. What did Jayasuriya do? He marched on, employing a wide array of sweeps to counter the introduction of spin. Some were, frustratingly, just out of reach of fielders, a few were delicately paddled, others worked into the gaps for singles while one, off Yusuf Pathan, nearly knocked RP Singh off his feet for it was thumped so hard.
The man with two decades and 437 one-day caps worth of experience played an invaluable role and showed, for the umpteenth time, just why he's been such a prolific run-scorer for Sri Lanka. Don't go by the batting average; this man's capacity to savage attacks and, often gone unnoticed, score freely when Sri Lanka are struggling, has proved of immense value over the years. Jayasuriya has scored 50 or more on 96 occasions in ODIs, and Sri Lanka have won 66 of those games.
Jayasuriya's dismissal on 98, and the almost immediate wicket of Angelo Mathews, may have given India reason to believe they had matters under control, but as it turned out, Thilina Kandamby played a stellar innings that put India on the back foot and then crippled them. Different from Jayasuriya in gait, stance, ability and approach, Kandamby coolly kept runs ticking along as he poached precious singles and twos. With Chamara Kapugedera playing fluently, Kandamby was able to nudge and maneuver the ball into gaps, at first happy to let his partner do most of the scoring.
Key to this stand was the fact that Kandamby and Kapugedera looked to score off each ball. They ran hard and weren't reliant on boundaries. Out of those 83 runs, only five came in fours. Of the 92 balls they played, only 33 didn't add to the run-count. But it was workmanlike and skillful. Kandamby paced his innings exceptionally well - when Kapugedera was dismissed in the first over of the Powerplay, Kandamby had 46 from 54 balls, but by the time he was done he had scored 91 off 73, at a strike-rate of 124.65. As he showed against India earlier this year, he again proved himself adept at building a good one-day innings under pressure. Efforts like that are often the difference between winning and losing.
Like Thilan Samaraweera on Tuesday, Kandamby was perfectly appropriate for the proverbial cat-and-mouse game, smartly knocking the ball in the gaps. Then, as the batting Powerplay was taken after 45 overs, he jacked it up tremendously. Some shots were pure class, including a full-blooded shot past backward point after backing away and two deliberate paddles off the quicks. It was riveting batting.
Jayasuriya has grabbed the local headlines lately for all the wrong reasons. Kandamby hasn't even occupied a paragraph. Jayasuriya has refrained from replying to criticism vocally. Consigned for some time to benches, Kandamby hasn't had a lot of opportunities. Driven by desperation, and fuelled by self-belief, the two left-handers shone.

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