Cricket: Sri Lanka left to rust

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The Independent Online
Northamptonshire 199 v Sri Lanka Match abandoned

THEY DID not exactly flock to Wantage Road but the few hundred Northamptonshire and Sri Lanka fans who turned up in expectation of seeing a few fireworks from the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya were thwarted on two counts.

First, Northampton, having won the toss, elected to bat. And by the time they had been bundled out, two balls short of their allocated 50 overs, the rain was setting in, turning the hoped-for run feast into a damp squib.

It was frustrating all round, but especially so for the World Cup holders, Sri Lanka, who were aching to get out in the middle and put bat to ball. "It was better than staying inside," said the Sri Lanka captain, Arjuna Ranatunga. "I am glad we could play some cricket and at least it was a good work-out for the bowlers and the fielders. It was unfortunate we could not bat."

Still, there was the sight of Muttiah Muralitharan, the off-spinner whose action has twice prompted umpires to call him for chucking, wheeling in from the pavilion end and finding a line and length from the start, pretty impressive considering his last serious bowl was in Melbourne back at the beginning of February, after which he underwent arthroscopy on his right shoulder.

"He did play one match in Colombo before we left," said Ranatunga, "but this was his first important match. In the nets we saw he was turning the ball and bowling well."

He bowled well yesterday in the middle, tying down one end when the Northamptonshire batsmen were threatening to run up a big score.

It was the fall of David Sales, who was tempted into lashing a shorter Muralitharan delivery over cow-shot corner only to be comfortably caught by Eric Upashantha, that marked the beginning of a sharp decline in the home side's fortunes. And if there were players guilty of chucking anything yesterday then they were all Northamptonshire batsmen who chucked away their wickets.

Even Mal Loye, free-hitting top scorer that he was for much of the innings, eventually allowed himself to fall prey to temptation and essayed a casual leg-side flick off the bowling of Chandika Hathurusingha and was caught at deep fine leg. The annoying thing was that until then he had looked well set for a century and was making one or two members of the Sri Lanka seam attack look rather ordinary.

He had by then launched a rocket of a shot for six over long on off Hathurusingha and, having thumped a second off the same bowler over midwicket, was then out a couple of balls later for an entertaining 73 off 100 balls.

The only man to match his attacking approach was his second-wicket partner, Russell Warren, who contributed a pleasing 44 to a stand of 81. But once he and then Sales, some five overs later, had perished the home side seemed more eager to return to the dressing-room, as if the warm-up had become too hot for them to handle.

By the end it definitely looked like that. They certainly could not read Muralitharan, whose 10 overs yielded a miserly 1 for 21, while Upashantha finished with 3 for 33. The last eight wickets fell for the addition of 67 runs in just 16 overs, but the departing crowd could only imagine how quickly those runs might have been knocked off by Jayasuriya and his dashing partners.

Zimbabwe have had a request to reschedule yesterday's abandoned World Cup warm-up match against Worcestershire at New Road turned down by the World Cup organising committee.

The coach, David Houghton, sounded out the Worcestershire secretary, Mike Vockins, about the possibility of restaging the match today. But the plan was ruled out after a telephone call to the committee.