Wayward pacemen add to the host’s misery in the opening match
Centurion: The sun blazed down at the SuperSport Park but Tillakaratne Dilshan was hotter in the middle.
The belligerent opener’s 92-ball 106 lighted up the area in the opening game of the ICC Champions Trophy, here on Tuesday. Sri Lanka amassed 319 for eight in 50 overs against South Africa.
Fuel-driven by Dilshan’s stroke-play and skipper Kumar Sangakkara’s solidity, Sri Lanka consolidated through Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera.
Jayawardene’s batted with soft hands and deft touch. He used the depth of the crease wonderfully well to play the ball late and find the gaps in a rather old-fashioned way. Samaraweera, another batsman whose batsmanship is wrapped in classicism, provided Jayawardene able support.
Dilshan seized the initiative from the South African pace attack, disrupted the rhythm of the bowlers. The Sri Lankan opener is a quick-thinking, nimble footed batsman. This coupled with the fact that he also possesses extraordinary hand-eye coordination makes Dilshan extremely dangerous.
He can get his foot to the pitch of the ball for the classical cover-drive. He can also produce the stand-and-deliver stuff hitting through the line with his bat-speed and reflexes or just harness the pace of the ball.
Like most gifted batsmen, Dilshan can pick the length early. Given his attributes, the bowlers often struggle to find the right length against this free-stroking batsman.
The duel between Dilshan and Dale Steyn was always going to be engrossing. Dilshan won the face-off.
When Steyn probed him with fuller length deliveries outside the off-stump, Dilshan creamed the paceman repeatedly between cover and mid-off.
He was also quick to whip anything on his leg-stump. When the South African spearhead pitched short, Dilshan was able to cut and pull the paceman with disdain.
There was some bounce and carry for the paceman but not much movement off the seam on a hot, sunny afternoon. Dilshan’s proficiency with horizontal bat strokes hurt South Africa.
Left-armer Wayne Parnell struggled to bring the ball into the right-hander or take it away from the southpaw — Sanath Jayasuriya flourished against the paceman briefly — and Dilshan carved him for boundaries on either side of the wicket.
Jayasuriya was trapped leg-before playing across a length ball from Steyn that held its line but South Africa ran into another right-left combination in Dilshan and skipper Kumar Sangakkara. Sangakkara was solid, leaning into the cover-drives, using his wrists to drill the ball through mid-wicket, or clipping balls off his pads; the South African pacemen were not bowling to their fields.
Support seamer Albie Morkel was no exception pitching short and giving Dilshan room to free his arms.
Sri Lanka motored along reaching making 71 in the first ten overs during a critical phase when the pacemen were unable to make early inroads after Graeme Smith won the toss. When the second block of Power Play overs concluded in the 15th over, Sri Lanka had rollicked to 105 for one.
Dilshan got to a thrill-a-minute half century off only 38 balls. Spinners, offie Johan Botha and left-armer van der Merwe, checked the run rate with some disciplined bowling.
Dilshan and Sangakkara worked the ball around for singles and twos apart from finding the occasional boundary.
Dilshan reached his third ODI century after opening out with a couple of audacious boundaries off occasional off-spinner spinner Jean-Paul Duminy before turning the bowler for a single. His hundred had consumed 87 balls and included 15 fours and a six.
However, Sangakkara who had rotated the strike admirably with clever placements, fell for a 74-ball 54 (5x4) playing an attempted drive a shade early for bowler Duminy — operating from round the wicket — to hold the catch. The second wicket pair had taken the score from 16 for one in the third over to 174 in the 28th.
Not much later, Dilshan sliced a short ball from Steyn into third man’s hands. But then, his inventive innings had provided Sri Lanka the initiative.