Sri Lanka Women's U19 captain Vishmi Gunaratne drove a crucial boundary down the ground in the 19th over to take the required run rate back under a run a ball and victory was eventually clinched later in the over as she finished 34 not out to garner the Player of the Match award in Sri Lanka's seven-wicket win over USA to start off the 2023 ICC Women's U19 T20 World Cup in South Africa.
Photo credit: Peter Della Penna
By Peter Della Penna in Benoni (Twitter @PeterDellaPenna)
Sri Lanka Women’s U19 captain Vishmi Gunaratne held her nerve in a tense low-scoring match, finishing 34 not out off 40 balls in a Player of the Match performance as Sri Lanka took 16 runs off the 19th over to clinch a seven-wicket win with an over to spare over USA Women’s U19 on Saturday in the Group A opener of the 2023 ICC Women’s U19 T20 World Cup at Willowmoore Park in Benoni, South Africa.
Set a target of 97 by USA after the Americans chose to bat first, Gunaratne entered in the third over at the fall of the first wicket. Snigdha Paul had built pressure with a maiden in her first over and induced a false shot in the third from Nethmi Senarathna, who tried to force a pull shot to a back of a length delivery and wound up top-edging to Laasya Mullapudi at short midwicket for 5 to make it 7 for 1.
Gunaratne only hit two boundaries in her knock, the first of which came in the seventh over when she clubbed a full toss from Bhumika Bhadriraju to deep midwicket where a misfield resulted in the ball going over the rope. But while she lacked boundaries, Gunaratne was very assured at using her feet to USA’s spin arsenal and found ways to knock singles and twos to negate any mounting pressure.
Things were not always as assured opposite her though as USA tried to work their magic at the other end. Bhadriraju struck in the ninth, inducing a false drive to mid-off by Sumudu Nisansala as Aditi Chudasama took a safe catch to dismiss the opener for 14 to make it 32 for 2. Dewmi Vihanga had a fiery but brief knock that helped relieve some pressure after entering at No. 4. She pulled back to back boundaries off Ritu Singh’s offspin in the 10th over resulting in a 12-run frame that made up for a lackluster Powerplay – Sri Lanka were 18 for 1 after six – as Sri Lanka reached 46 for 2 by the halfway stage.
But two balls after play resumed, Bhadriraju foxed Vihanga with a slightly quicker ball that was dragged wider outside off stump to defeat a charge down the wicket and had her stumped for 10 to make it 46 for 3. Manudi Nanayakkara joined Gunaratne and the two took a methodical approach across the next several overs as both sides waited for the other to crack.
An opening came for USA in the 15th when USA Women’s U19 captain Geetika Kodali brought herself on and induced a miscued pull to mid-off on the final ball of the over with Nanayakkara on 13 at 68 for 3, but a low diving effort was spilled to keep the innings going. Sri Lanka needed a run a ball with three overs to go and one more chance was created by Sai Eyyunni’s legspin in the 18th with Nanayakkara on 20, but a firm drive to extra cover after Nanayakkara charged down the pitch was put down at knee height.
Sri Lanka needed 13 off 12 balls but after a two and a single to start the over by Nanayakkara, Gunaratne put Sri Lanka in total control with a dance down the pitch and a drive back over Singh’s head to the boundary to bring the equation back under a run a ball required. After another two and a single, Nanayakkara ended the match with another charge to drive Singh over long-off for six to finish with 32 not out off 31 balls.
Bhadriraju ended with 2 for 17 in her four overs in the loss. Paul bowled a sterling three-over new ball spell to end with figures of 1 for 2 but was never brought back for a fourth over. USA captain Kodali only wound up bowling herself for a solitary over, conceding five runs.
USA had a much more promising start than Sri Lanka after deciding to bat first at the toss, but wasted a good platform with some self-inflicted wounds and then fizzled out badly at the death. Disha Dhingra scored USA’s first boundary of the match to end the first over, cutting medium pacer Pamoda Shaini behind point, and helped advance the score to 28 after five overs with another pair of boundaries.
But USA hit a trio of speed bumps across the next three overs to stunt their momentum. Fellow opener Mullapudi reached 3 when she played back to Vihanga’s offspin and was given out leg before to make it 28 for 1 in the sixth. Dhingra was then runout to start the seventh over when responding to a poor call for a single by Anika Kolan, who set off on contact after hitting too firmly to extra cover as a relay came to the keeper in plenty of time to dismiss Dhingra for 18 making it 31 for 2. Paul entered at No. 4 and fell for 3 when she slapped a full toss back to Vihanga at waist height to make it 39 for 3 after 8.
Isani Vaghela fell next in the 11th for 8. Just two balls after hitting a boundary, she tried to repeat the shot and top edged a slog to Dulanga Dissanayake making it 51 for 4. Kolan fell an over later for 9, driving left-arm spinner Vihara Sewwandi to mid-off to make it 55 for 5 after 12.
Singh did her best to counter-attack, driving the first two balls of the 13th over mid-off and extra cover for back-to-back boundaries, then hit another ball to the ropes in the 15th. Kodali pulled a boundary through square leg in the 17th to join the act and with three overs to go, USA were in a decent position at 88 for 5.
USA's success to this stage of the innings was also highlighted by Sri Lanka's mounting frustration in the field at being unable to finish off USA borne out by two attempts that were made by bowlers to runout a batter before delivery at the non-striker's end. The first was attempted by Perera against Kolan in the ninth over and then another attempt was made by Vihanga against Singh in the 18th over. However, on both occasion, neither USA player had left their crease and so play resumed after a dead ball signal.
But USA flamed out badly in the final three overs, scoring just nine runs off the final 18 balls while losing four wickets in the process. A wicket-maiden was bowled in the 18th by Vihanga, which began when Kodali lost track of the ball after missing a pull shot down the leg side, apparently believing the ball had gone by the keeper. After taking a step out of her crease, Nisansala whipped off the bails to remove the USA captain and USA’s best finisher for 11.
Two more wickets fell in the 19th as Singh sliced a drive to short third man against left-arm spinner Vidushika Perera for USA’s top-score of 22. Four balls later, Shah played across the line to a straight ball and was given lbw for 1. Bhadriraju fell for a second-ball duck to medium pacer Rashmi Nethranjali in the final over, unable to clear Gunaratne at mid-off with a drive as the Sri Lanka captain pulled off a spectacular one-handed catch to make it 92 for 9 with three balls to go. Eyyunni and Chudasama combined to take four runs off the last three balls for USA to end on 96 for 9, an underwhelming finish when they looked certain to pass three figures with three overs to go.
Vihanga finished with 3 for 11 in four overs to lead the Sri Lanka bowling unit. Perera claimed 2 for 15 in four. Dissanayake took 1 for 16 in two overs. Nethranjali claimed 1 for 18 in four overs while Sewwandi ended with 1 for 19 in three overs.
In the other match of the day in Group A, Bangladesh defeated Australia by seven wickets after chasing a target of 131 with two overs to spare. It means that USA and Australia will both be looking to score their first victory of the tournament when they square off on Monday afternoon in Benoni in USA’s second match of Group A. Start time is at 1:45 pm local time, 6:45 am on the east coast in the USA. Bangladesh will face Sri Lanka in the other match of the day in Group A with the winner taking possession of the top of the group table.