The words ‘choke’ and South Africa go hand-in-hand in World Cup cricket but Sri Lanka came close to wresting that from the Proteas today. Chasing a mediocre score on a pitch they would have played most of their cricket, Sri Lanka collapsed and gave West Indies their first World Cup title since 1979.
However, to lose a final means the side needs to get there first and Sri Lanka had done everything right going into the game.
They seemed to have hit the ground running early too and had West Indies by the scruff of their neck in the opening half of the first innings. They only needed to press the foot they had on their opponents’ throat a little harder and the cup could well have been theirs to be had.
Instead, the pressure of playing in their fourth World Cup final – and not winning any one of them – seemed to get to them once Marlon Samuels counterattacked. Sri Lanka rolled over as quickly as they had begun, losing the final by a margin of 26 runs.
Sri Lanka would have been the happier of two sides had they been asked to chase 138 at the start. Conceding more than 100 in the last 10 overs, however, seemed to have taken the wind off their sails.
Captain Mahela Jayawardene put it mildly when he said that the West Indies had the momentum going into the second innings, which swung the match in their favour.
A quarter into the game, West Indies looked to have been hit by a bout of nerves, ones that are common among those playing on the big stage for the first time. Having never made it to a World Cup final since 1983, West Indies were all but sewn up after 10 overs. Or so one thought with the score at 32/2 at that stage.
It was a West Indian start that a few thought possible. A wicket in the first over, followed by the first run off bat only off the 17th ball of the innings would have been nerve-wracking for even the coolest Caribbean supporter.
Impatience got the better of Johnson Charles. Probably in the mood to take on the medium-pacers before the slow bowlers came on, Charles’ expansive attempt at heaving the ball came cropper. The bottom of the bat was taken and it fell into the eager hands of mid-off.
The edginess, probably from playing in their first ever World Cup final since 1979 showed. Gayle, probably pegged back by the loss of his opening partner, came close to getting the edge of the bat on a couple of occasions apart from surviving a longish couple of appeals for lbw.
Off the third such imploring, umpire Simon Taufel, in the last game of a glorious international career, upheld it to push West Indies back further. If there were any West Indian supporters in the stadium, they had been completely shut up.
The seeds of the West Indian win were sowed by the Marlon Samuels-Dwayne Bravo stand, as slow as it was to kick-start the scoring.
If there has been one West Indian batsman apart from Gayle the whole World T20 2012 who has consistently looked comfortable against bowling of any nature, it is Samuels. Tonight he batted in a zone that was different from all other batsmen, cocooned from whatever was happening around him by a sense of calm that he rarely falls short of exhibiting.
The first six of that partnership came in the 12th over came off the bat of Bravo, who read a Danajaya googly well and dispatched it over long-on. An over later, Malinga was deposited thrice over the fence by Samuels and a fight-back had been initiated.
Malinga hasn’t had the best of World T20 2012 going into the final barring the one game against England. He reserved his worst for the final.
The yorkers he is so famous for, are a difficult art to possess, even more tough to master. It is not so much a problem then that he went for three sixes in an over but the fact that lengths on each of those deliveries were badly misplaced.
Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Andre Russell fell to Ajantha Mendis in a span of four deliveries, their wickets sandwiching a brutal six and a four from Samuels that brought up his half-century. Again however, Mendis had halted the West Indian recovery and a score of 120 looked a distant possibility.
For the second time in the innings, Malinga let the hosts back into the game. And for the second time in the match it was Samuels who blazed away for a couple of sixes and a four in that over.
Dananjaya eked out his wicket next over by which time Samuels had six sixes in his 78 and West Indies had given themselves an outside chance. Captain Darren Sammy, not often called upon to bat this tournament put the icing on Samuels’ cake with a 15-ball 22 that pushed his side to a fighting score of 137.
Sri Lanka were pushed to the back foot from the very beginning of their chase. Tillakaratne Dilshan saw his stumps take a walk off the seventh ball, leaving Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara to consolidate rather than take on the Lankan bowlers.
The momentum with West Indies, even a 42-run stand between the two stalwarts of Sri Lankan cricket wasn’t enough to put them back into contention. Very much like the first half of the West Indian batting, the runs took too much time coming but unlike their opponents, Sri Lanka did not possess the wherewithal in the middle.
The dismissal of Sangakkara in the tenth over triggered a middle-order collapse that saw Sri Lanka lose their remaining wickets for the addition of 53 runs. Only some late hitting from Nuwan Kulasekara did as much as cheering the home crowd up but without a top-order batsman for company, he failed to dent the West Indian chances.
(Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and tweets here: @suneerchowdhary)