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By Gokul Chakravarthy
A lot has been said and written about the two-match Twenty20 International series between New Zealand and Sri Lanka and its effectiveness as an “advertisement for cricket in the USA”.
The thing about advertisements is that there needs to be a product first that can be sold and there needs to be a market to sell that product to. This weekend was a first step in announcing that product – “[World-class] Cricket in America”. Where many previous cricket boards, individual entrepreneurs and business conglomerates have had little success, the current bunch of people behind the Pearls Cup have been able to give that product an initial shape and feel their market.
Photo (left): The jumbotron announcing the match, Courtesy: DreamCricket.com
This product, no doubt, requires a lot of shaping and evolving. After all, the very first iPod looks almost unusable by today’s standards. But there is no doubt that the product itself has its merits and it has its market.
In fact, it is only now that advertisements should be worked on as the product itself evolves. New Zealand’s leader, Daniel Vettori agreed, saying “It [The Pearls Cup] has certainly given USA cricket a profile and I think that’s the biggest thing to come from that.”
As matters unfolded in the second of these two matches, New Zealand had “assessed the conditions and adapted to those pretty well" the previous day as Sri Lanka’s captain Kumar Sangakkara himself put it.
Sri Lanka might have been a day behind on that learning curve, but by the time the last of the 2-match T20 series ended, they had leapfrogged New Zealand. A magic over from Nuwan Kulasekara, where he took 3 top-order Kiwi wickets, and tentative batting from New Zealand led to the Pearls Trophy being shared by the two teams.
While the Man of the Match choice was obvious, Daniel Vettori’s name on the Man of the Series award must have been a nuanced choice. He had indeed batted with an alarming fluency over the weekend, not the type that we are used to seeing from a Sangakkara or a Mahela Jayawardena, but in his own ‘not pretty, but effective’ kind of way.
“I think my game is [that] I can play spin and in these sort of conditions you’re going to face a lot of spin bowlers and lot of medium pace bowlers. Over the last few years, I’ve tried to develop that style of my game. So I just have a comfort level and a confidence in those sorts of conditions,” he was to explain it later.
As captain, for a second day in a row, he had not hesitated to bat first. But the difference this time was that Sri Lanka had picked Kulasekara to be the #2 bowler with the usual suspect for #1, Angelo Matthews. This was to end up being THE difference between the two teams. Sangakkara opined that “This is the type of wicket that assists Kulasekara very well. It is low and had a bit of zip in the morning, not pace, but just a bit of movement that he exploited very well. [We are] pretty grateful to him for giving us that start that allowed us to apply the pressure.”
Photo (right): Nuwan Kulasekara celebrating (left in the background) celebrating the last New Zealand wicket with Sanatha Jayasuriya, Courtesy: DreamCricket.com
The only other person Kulasekara needed assistance from was the umpire. He opened that over by hiting Aaron Redmond’s (1) leg before the wicket. He finished it with a double-strik; first bowling Brendon McCullum(1) to a gem that just swung out, leaving McCullum playing for his customary in-swinger and missing and then, in the last ball of the over, removing RJ Nicol (0) who was also adjudged LBW by umpire Ian Gould.
Their skipper, who further promoted himself bravely up the order to #5 in this match, said of all this mayhem, “Kulasekara, in particular, bowled straight and probably did enough with it and he got wickets with really good balls. As a batting unit, sometimes you just have to accept that the bowling unit is on top. When we were 3 for 4 wickets and 13 for 5, it was always going to be difficult to come back from then and post a competitive total.”
And difficult it was. If New Zealand had scrapped their way to 120 the previous day, they crawled to 81 in this match, thanks largely to fighting scores from Vettori (27 from 24 balls) and Nathan McCullum (36 from 39 balls), the hero with the bat of their nail-biting WT20 victory over Sri Lanka. When Vettori was adjudged caught behind to a ball that he missed and hit the ground instead, one could hear the last gasp from the dying New Zealand innings.
A defeat for Sri Lanka chasing 81 was not improbable - they had imploded to 96 in their chase of 120 earlier.
Mahela’s fluency returned in the first 3 overs and he scored 17 out of Sri Lanka’s 18/0. There were boundaries and even a 6 with ‘Mahela” written all over it. That shoved Vettori and his wards’ already faint possibility of winning into the realms of impossibility. When Mahela got out and Thissara Perera walked in and waltzed his way to a couple of meaty blows himself, all Vettori could expect to save was face. Perera was particularly severe on Tim Southee whom he took for 15 runs in one over.
The demons that seem to have taunted the Kiwis were absent when Sri Lanka batted. None of their bowlers really troubled the Lankans as they shared the honors with an easy win in the end. It had been expected that the series would be a contest among equals and it ended with a result that fit the bill, 1-1.
Photo (left): Tillakaratne Dilshan swatting a ball as Daniel Vettori looks on, Courtesy: DreamCricket.com
An announcement was made, at the end of the match, of a completely out-of-the-left-field “Super Over” type of tie-breaker to decide the winner of the Trophy. But just as the assemble crowd started salivating at the prospect of seeing some big hits, the organizers apologizes and reneged.
For those familiar with and facing on a daily basis the various factors that have been holding US cricket back, May 22nd and May 23rd of 2010 shall be a symbolic victory. They will feel a combination of release and relief. A relief that they no longer require to engage in a leap of faith to believe that world-class cricket can belong within these United States.
How long that sense of relief shall last now depends on the ones that are entrusted with directing the momentum from this event into a meaningful direction. They had some good advice from Vettori and Sangakkara.
“I think they [the US cricket team] need to get some games together because they are spread so far and wide and then they disappear for a month and don’t see each other and don’t see the coaches. If they are able to get together more as a team and be coached more, it’s going to be a real positive step for them moving forward.
The final vindication of cricket in any country is that the country owns it. They feel that they are an intrinsic part of it. They have that pride in and that feeling of “this is my team these is my players who are walking out playing for us”. So, it’s very important to make sure that more cricket is played and to make sure that the rules, the intricacies, the strategy: it’s all made an awareness program that spreads the word of cricket right throughout the US. Those are the things that really matter at the end.
Post Match Interview with New Zealand players, 2nd T20, Pearls Cup, New Zealand v Sri Lanka from Peter Della Penna on Vimeo.
Post Match Interview with Sri Lankan players, 2nd T20, Pearls Cup, New Zealand v Sri Lanka from Peter Della Penna on Vimeo.