A cool hand from Ajantha Mendis clinched a sensational one-wicket victory for Sri Lanka, in a rain-reduced, 26-over-a-side match that featured several sharp turns, and riveting twists of fortune. Mendis’ high, handsome six over long-on sealed the result in the penultimate over, after Sunil Narine, in his first international match in 14 months, had brought the chase to its knees with a triple-wicket over. Earlier in the chase of 163, Tillakaratne Dilshan had seemingly set his team on an inevitable course to victory, with the fastest half-century of his 320-match ODI career.
Narine led West Indies’ charge back into the match, after Sri Lanka had been 104 for 2 in the 13th over. Dilshan and Angelo Mathews’ dismissals had exposed a green middle order, and Narine dismissed nos. 5, 6 and 7 in the 19th over, to bring the tail-enders to the crease with 30 runs still to get. Milinda Siriwardana’s mis-timed hoick to the leg side finished in the hands of mid-on, and both debutants Shehan Jayasuriya and Danushka Gunathilaka misread the turn of Narine’s offbreaks, and found their stumps rattled.
Mendis and Senanayake survived Narine’s next over, but only just – Mendis was found to be millimetres inside his crease after he had set off for a non-existent run. They put on 19 together before Jonathan Carter made a double-breakthrough in the 24th over to leave Sri Lanka still needing 11 with only a wicket in hand. No. 11 Suranga Lakmal survived Carter’s two remaining balls, and Mendis hit the winning runs off Johnson Charles in the following over. West Indies captain Jason Holder had been forced to rely on his part-timers at the close, after Andre Russell earlier limped off the field having delivered only five balls.
Sri Lanka’s tail-enders had been given the leeway to play themselves in at the crease by Dilshan’s arresting 59 from 32 deliveries. He began his blitz in the third over, clipping a wayward Jason Holder delivery to the fine-leg fence before cracking a short ball towards deep square-leg next ball. That arc behind square on the leg side would be a productive zone for him; in the fifth over, off three consecutive balls, he collected a top-edge four, an over-the shoulder scoop that carried over the rope, and a cracking hook for six, all in that direction.
Kusal Perera was run out for 14 by Carter’s direct hit from point, but Dilshan did not let the dismissal dent his own pace. He struck Jerome Taylor for consecutive fours on the leg side in the ninth over, and crossed 50 off his 25th delivery with another withering hook shot – this one off Holder.
His caught-behind dismissal brought a sharp decline in the scoring rate, and led to Sri Lanka’s eventual falter. West Indies’ seamers built pressure through a short-pitched barrage in the following overs, and Mathews was the first victim of their efforts, advancing to slice a Taylor short ball to third man in the 16th over. With no Dinesh Chandimal in the middle order thanks to his suspension, the hosts’ nos. 5, 6 and 7 had seven ODI caps between them.
Earlier Russell shellacked 41 from 24 balls and Jason Holder crashed 36 from 13, to lift West Indies to 159 for 8 – a total that was slightly enlarged by the Duckworth-Lewis equation. Russell slammed three sixes – all in the arc between midwicket and cover – and hit three fours, after coming to the crease with less than 11 overs remaining in the innings. Holder’s surge was briefer, but more manic. He came to the crease with 20 balls remaining, hit his first ball for six down the ground, and continued to strike cleanly, memorably launching Mendis flat over long-off in the penultimate over. Darren Bravo, who had resisted the Sri Lanka seamers’ advances early in the innings, finished with 38 from 58 balls.
Before the rains came, and while a full 50-over match was still being played, Suranga Lakmal had reduced West Indies to 29 for 3 with five disciplined overs, envenomed by seam and swing. He had Charles lbw third ball, straightening a delivery he had bowled from wide of the crease, to hit the batsman’s back pad in front of middle stump. Next over, having squared up Andre Fletcher with a zippy away-seamer, he had the batsman slap a wide delivery into the hands of point. Marlon Samuels, who had won West Indies the 2012 World T20 in his last outing at Khettarama, was Lakmal’s third new-ball victim. He received a series of away-seamers, then fell prey to the ball that came in with the angle, to hit him in front of the stumps.
Lakmal’s new-ball partner Lasith Malinga gleaned less movement off the surface, but nevertheless displayed signs of a return to form. His speeds were consistently in the high 130kph range, and his accuracy had returned. Malinga bowled a maiden to begin the innings, then applied pressure as Lakmal took wickets from the other end, skidding the ball into batsmen’s pads to raise two lbw appeals – one of which Sri Lanka reviewed unsuccessfully.
The rains came after 14.2 overs and, upon resumption, West Indies traded in their survivalist approach for all-out aggression. Russell hoicked three sixes and two fours in his first 12 balls to kickstart West Indies’ surge. He and Bravo put on a 58-run stand, but the wickets did eventually begin to flow again for Sri Lanka. Holder’s batting explosion gave West Indies a chance of taking a lead in the series, but ultimately, the injury to Russell perhaps prevented their victory.