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By Gokul Chakravarthy
USACA’s ambitious, yet realistic, CEO, Don Lockerbie, had included in his blueprint for the development of US cricket, key pillars that were to connect the foundation of grassroots cricket to the lofty ceiling of the national team reaching ODI status. These pillars would be international matches hosted by the USA from time to time; serving to enthuse the existing vast expat cricket community while educating the average Americans about cricket and eventually entering their living room and backyards.
Cricket had shown signs of its presence over the past few years by an odd Seinfeld joke in an ad here or as a murder weapon in a popular TV detective series there or, for that matter when Discovery Channel’s “How it’s Made” featured cricket bats.
But as one of possibly the last bunch of popular sitcoms on a major network, “Rules of Engagement”, had an entire episode with cricket as one of its main themes, maybe cricket is beginning to get ensconced somewhere within the American psyche. When defeat in a duel of good old street cricket leads to the American lead actor in the series actually admitting to a South African Indian in as many words that “Cricket is a great sport,” it at once seems like a proud lesson in the sport and an unabashed product placement. The tagline of the recently concluded ICC WT20 2010 tournament, “Bring it”, was cleverly, if blatantly, thrust into the dialogue for good measure, making the whole thing appear a lot like a product placement. Nevertheless, the metaphor and timing of it all is not lost.
The last tango in Providence
The timing is impeccable, not only because of the aforementioned ICC WT20 (World Cup) but also because 2 of the biggest cricketing nations, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, who played in that World Cup, are now in the USA, preparing for a 2-match T20 International series against each other. As a matter of fact, the WT20 had been kicked off on April 29, 2010, with a battle between these two very teams.
And what a match it was!
The 2 teams met only once in that tournament but it was a memorable contest that set up heady expectations for the remainder of the contests. Everyone will remember Mike Hussey’s redefinition of the cameo in the Semi Final against Pakistan, but New Zealand’s tailenders had scored 22 in the last 9 balls to take them to a tense victory against Sri Lankans off the penultimate ball of the match. That was at a neutral venue as well – The Providence Stadium in Guyana.
It was also a crucial match in that the regular stars with the ball for either team, Lasith Malinga for Sri Lanka and Shane Bond for New Zealand, had not really made an impact in the match. Malinga, especially with his quirky action and normally well-controlled pace variations was off target in that match and Bond was taken heavy toll of by the Lankan top order. Both teams are known for their resilience in tournaments. New Zealand have been regular Semi Finalists at various international tournaments while Sri Lanka have also made it a habit to reach the final stages of such tournaments since they first won the ODI Cricket World Cup in 1996.
Head to head
(In 2010, the only T20Is played by Sri Lanka were all during the WT20 in the West Indies)
The teams have similar resources, a similar approach to cricket and that reflects in their almost similar results. Sri Lanka might have more sparkle in their ranks, thanks to bigger stars, but that only adds to New Zealand’s skipper Daniel Vettori’s already impressive list of advantages when it comes to captaining his side and commanding their respect and demanding their best on the cricket field. Captaincy might well turn out to be the decisive factor in this duel.
To top it off, the results from the last 5 matches show that they each have the exact same form coming into this series.
A look at all the teams in T20Is shows that any of the 9 Test playing teams or Zimbabwe are likely to score 153 runs in 20 overs. This is also the the par score for all T20Is. Based on that, Sri Lanka are likely to score a par+ score of 158 while New Zealand are likely to score a just about par score of 152.
On the surface, it seems like Sri Lanka has scored more runs than New Zealand, 18-16, which also gives Sri Lanka a higher Win/Loss ratio. But what those statistics don't reveal is the one alarming factor that New Zealand have tied 3 T20 matches.
Regardless, this clash of the earliest adopters of T20Is, New Zealand, and one of the latest entrants to the format, Sri Lanka, has all the makings of an instant classic within the context of USA’s cricketing history and the Broward County Regional Park will be set alight when the Black Caps go against the Lankan Lancers on Saturday, May 22, 2010.
(To be continued ...)