Sri Lanka endured a strong start to their 2021 T20 World Cup campaign as the Dasun Shanaka-led side beat Namibia by 7 wickets after rolling the associate nation over for just 96. The Lankans enjoyed a perfect outing with the ball, with their seamers showcasing plenty of aggression, but with the bat, it was a chase that was far from perfect.
Sri Lanka lost their top three inside the powerplay, and they needed both Avishka Fernando and Bhanuka Rajapaksa to play mature knocks to take the side over the line. Thankfully for the Lankans the duo rose up to the occasion, and sealed the side two points as they, thanks to superior Net Run Rate, moved to the top of the table.
They will next take on Ireland on Wednesday, a clash that could potentially decide who tops the group.
Aggressive Sri Lanka turn up the heat with the ball
Dasun Shanaka had no hesitation in opting to bowl first, and under lights in Abu Dhabi, the Sri Lankan seamers walked out thirsty for blood. Six overs of ruthless aggression was what the seamers delivered inside the first ten, rattling the Namibian batters.
Chameera, Karunaratne and Lahiru Kumara were the seamers on the night for the Lankans, and the trio’s plan was clear: to bowl short and bowl at the body. A staggering 86.1% of the deliveries bowled by the Lankan seamers in the first 10 overs were in the 6-10 meter range, with Chameera also smacking opener Zane Green bang on the helmet twice. The hostility took the Namibian batters aback.
Sri Lankan pacers' lengths in the first 10 overs
But it was not just the lengths that terrified Namibia, it was the pace too. 13 balls breached the 140 kph mark, and it was the kind of pace that Namibia were not accustomed to. The associate nation simply had no answers.
The individual who reaped the rewards for this aggression shown by the seamers was Maheesh Theekshana. The mystery spinner, playing in his first ever World Cup game, was introduced early by Shanaka, and the youngster accounted for both the Namibian wickets that fell inside the powerplay. Both Green and Stephan Baard were bamboozled by Theekshana’s variations, and they perished in identical fashion, skying the ball up in the air.
Second half clinic follows first half masterclass
Namibia, despite the pace barrage, competed in the first 10 overs, managing to score 54 for the loss of 2 wickets, but the second half was a no-contest. The Sri Lankan bowlers were simply too good: clinical, efficient and relentless.
The back-to-back wickets of the well set batters Gerhard Erasmus and Craig Williams - who perished within the span of 7 balls - turned out to be a body blow, post which Namibia’s innings went downhill. None of the final seven batters scored over 12 runs, and Namibia were bundled out for 96.
It was a phase in which no Sri Lankan bowler put a foot wrong. Wanindu Hasaranga brought out the best version of himself after a loose first over - which cost 11 - while Theekshana toyed with the opposition batters to claim three wickets. Karunaratne mixed up his pace masterfully while Chameera and Kumara continued being unplayable. There was simply no respite for Namibia.
Not the strongest of opposition, yes, but one of the most complete T20 bowling performances one is bound to see.
Namibia rock Sri Lanka with triple strike
97 is the kind of total you would expect a full-nation member to chase blind-folded, particularly against an inexperienced associate, and at 14/0 just 10 balls into the innings, it looked like the Lankans would coast towards the target. But then Kusal Perera was out-foxed by a Ruben Trumpelmann slower ball - that resulted in the former’s undoing - post which there was a twist in the tale.
Like in the first game of the day, the Abu Dhabi wicket started holding and gripping, and this worked in favour of the bowling side. Bernard Scholtz, the left-arm spinner, trapped Pathum Nissanka in front by firing in a slider, and Sri Lanka were reduced to 18/2 in the blink of an eye.
Two became three in no time as JJ Smit soon dismissed Dinesh Chandimal, who had a torrid time in the middle. The right-hander struggled to time a single ball, and could only manage 5 off the 12 balls he faced.
Namibia bowled well, but it was a highly disappointing effort from the Lankan Top 3.
Avishka Fernando, Bhanuka Rajapaksa excel in unfamiliar roles to take Sri Lanka over the line
Prior to today, both Avishka Fernando and Bhanuka Rajapasa had batted only once in T20Is in their new-found roles of No.4 and No.5 respectively. Head coach Mickey Arthur, prior to the match, revealed that the management made tactical tweaks to the batting order based on Mahela Jayawardene’s input, which was driven by data.
The tweaks worked in the warm-up matches, and the team reaped benefits from the move today too. Both Fernando and Rajapaska looked at home in their new-found roles, and an exceptional partnership from the duo took Sri Lanka over the line.
The two batters put together a 74-run stand which was identical to the Stirling-Delany partnership from the evening game. While Fernando played anchor, Rajapaksa was more expressive and eventually ended with a SR of 155.56. The duo rotated strike efficiently against both the pacers and spinners, and dispatched every bad ball that came their way.
Rajapaksa finished the chase in style with a six, and the stroke was emblematic of how the entire contest unfolded.