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The Caribbean Esplanade- Reliving the 2007 World Cup

According to cognitive sciences, the human brain interprets experiences, based on how they ended. As a result a predominantly positive experience can be marred by a not so pleasant ending. Sri Lanka’s 2007 World Cup campaign is a classic example of this phenomenon named “Peak end effect”. What many recollect, is a gloomy final which robbed Sri Lanka a fair shot at glory. On the contrary in hindsight this was arguably Sri Lanka’s best World Cup campaign according to the writer’s opinion. The 2007 format required consistency against all teams to get into the Semi Finals and undoubtedly Sri Lanka was the second most consistent team, behind only the rampant Australians. This piece aims to capture the highs of the tournament which is often overshadowed by the memories of an unfortunate ending. Before we move into those, the build up to the tournament deserves a mention to provide context.

The core of the team that flew to the Caribbean was formed following the famous English tour in 2006. Sanath Jayasuriya had made a spectacular return to international cricket, whilst the then prodigious Upul Tharanga made a name for himself in the run up with a cluster of centuries. With Mahela, Kumar, Arnold and Dilshan in the middle order the only vacuum was for a middle order batsman who could rotate the strike and provide impetus when it mattered the most. Chamara Silva reincarnated himself in international cricket promising just that, scoring a flamboyant century against the mighty Indians in the series preceding the World Cup. The bowling line up was arguably the best Sri Lanka possessed, with a young Malinga grabbing the limelight with impressive performances in New Zealand. The team had whitewashed the English the year before, levelled a series in New Zealand in the preceding month. Hopes were that Sri Lanka would make it to the Semi Finals.  Australia and India on form were the hot favourites.

When Sri Lanka faced Bangladesh in their second game, the tournament had seen the death of a high profile coach, elimination of Pakistan and India’s fate hanging on a knife’s edge. From here we relive the highs of the tournament

Bringing Bangladesh back to reality 

A Sri Lanka- Bangladesh encounter could never have been as important as this was. The Bangladeshis had dismantled a mighty Indian line up a few days before, aided by the liveliness of the queen’s park oval wicket. The Sri Lankans too had to take first lease of the wicket. Which meant the Bangladeshis had every reason to fancy an encore? However Sanath Jayasuriya demolished any such hope with a clinical century setting up a formidable 318 for the lankans. The Lankan bowlers left no chance for the opposition, setting up a massive 198 run win. This meant India- Sri Lanka turned out to be a must win for India and moreover an efficient performance against a high riding Bangladesh was just the boost Sri Lanka needed to get the wheels in motion

Bye Bye Big Brother

With their fate hanging in balance the, Indians had every reason to believe they could thwart the Lankan challenge and move onto the next stage. After all they had pummelled Sri Lanka 6-1 in 2005 and 2-1 just prior to the tournament in their own backyard which was similar to the conditions at queen’s park oval. However it was a must win for the Lankans as well.

If they won they would knock India out and march into super eights with points under their belt as they had already beaten Bangladesh (who would then qualify for super eights). If they lost they would go through, buy with no points. Hence Sri Lanka too had everything to play for.

Batting first the Lankan line up posted 254 runs, moderate enough to give the bowlers a chance to defend against the mighty indian line up. In a bilateral series in similar conditions India would have romped home, but here the stakes were high and that showed from the start of the Indian Innings. With Uththappa and Ganguly back in the hut the Indian hopes revolved around Sachin Tendulkar. It was at this point that Dilhara Fernando In dipper delivered the killer punch cleaning up Sachin through the gap between the bat and pad, rattling the stumps behind. Sachin looking down in disappointment with Dilhara striking a victorious power pose is an image that would make any Lankan proud of as it was a rarity for Sachin to fail.

But the biggest moment was yet to arrive. With the top order out of the way and India at 112/5, trying to recover from a Yuvraj Singh run out, the major hurdle was MS Dhoni. With Dhoni in, Murali came around the wicket, pitched it in line within the stumps only for Dhoni to misread the length, go back and miss the ball. Wrapped on the back foot it was as plumb as it could get. In fact Dhoni started walking before the umpire ruled him out.

As Murali embarked on a celebratory run, thunderous applauses echoed in every household back home, in the middle of the night. It was a special moment, inching Sri Lanka closer to a special moment. Sri Lanka’s new found nemesis was sent packing. The rest just followed. Sri Lanka had sent the big brother back home with a professional show, winning by a comfortable 69 run margin. This meant Sri Lanka walked into the super eights with two points under the belt. The business end was about to begin. The proteas were waiting for the Lankans. The bandwagon moved to Guyana from the scenic Trinidad and Tobago. 

Malinga makes the world take note- Heart break in Guyana

The proteas challenge was turning out to be sour. A mediocre batting performance had left Sri Lanka far behind with only 209 to defend. The Murali- Vass combination tried yet could not create a significant impact. Malinga the new sensation was erratic, hemorrhaging runs.

The game was meandering along to a dull end. The skipper threw the ball to Malinga with Pollock and Kallis looking to finish the formalities. With 5 wickets in hand and 4 runs left to finish the game, Pollock was deceived by a slower one that curled just enough to rattle the leg stump, making Pollock play inside the line. In walked Andrew Hall, former opening batsman and walks out as fast as he came in, lobbing a dolly to Tharanga in the covers, trying to steer a slow full length delivery through covers. With Vass following up with a tight over Malinga returned for on last fling at glory. With Kallis on strike surely the formalities had to be completed, alas another twist, an over pitched 140 plus outswinger, kisses Kallis’s edge and lands safely in Sangakkara’s hands. It wasn’t just a hatrick, it was the first time a Sri Lankan was making the proteas crumble like a pack of cards. A hatrick achieved still 2 wickets left, those who were up at the odd hour were experiencing an adrenaline surge never experienced before by seeing a Sri lankan fast bowler. Surely this had to be it. It was surreal to continue. In comes Malinga outgoes Ntini, a lethal in swinging yorker at almost 145 Kmph cleaning up the timber.

On the verge of an unbelievable victory the reality sets in. Piterson’s off stumps survives another vicious yorker by the margin of a coating on the stump. An edge follows, the inevitable happens. Sri Lanka loses, but there was a much bigger win. The world had seen the arrival of Slinga Malinga. It was not only Murali and Vass oppositions had to contend with, but Malinga too had announced himself. The fear factor had been instilled in opposing teams.

Sangakkara stamps his signature, not with the bat but with the gloves

With a dramatic loss against South Africa,  it was time to regain momentum. The home team West Indies was no push over. With the likes of Lara, Bravo and Gayle in the ranks, backed by a formidable pace attack the challenge was real. Under a gloomy guyanese sky Sanath led the charge with his second hundred of the tournament scoring a fluent 115. Mahela who had an indifferent run upto that point, turned the tables with valuable knock forging a 182 run partnership with Sanath contributing 82 runs. With a formidable 303 runs in the bank Sri Lanka had every reason to believe.

The belief was accentuated when Dilhara Fernando miraculously held on to mighty skier from Chris Gayle at mid-off . Brian Charles Lara, was in the middle with high hopes of orchestrating a fairy tale swansong. With Windies at 44/2 Sangakkara pulled off a moment of brilliance sending Lara back with a swift stumping standing up to Vass gathering a 125 plus out swinger. Vass at the back end of his career was still a menace for the batsman. But Sangakkara’s move to come close to the stumps, gather an out swinger cleanly and whip the bails off in a flash was the moment that broke the back of the chase, sending the great Lara back setting up a crushing yet crucial 113 run win. It was not the batting prowess of Kumar Sangakkara, but the keeping skills that turned the tide in Lankan favour permanently at Guyana

Oh it’s gone for four, what drama..oh he’s bowled, he’s bowled- Drama in Antigua 

With a win against the home team putting the campaign back on track, the poms were up next. The batting failed to adapt to the slow wicket on offer at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium Antigua. Having posted a modest 235, the onus was on the bowlers again. Sangakkara pulled off a stunner down the leg side off Vass at the wicket to dismiss skipper Vaughan, however Bell and Pieterson seemed to be taking the game away from Sri Lanka. A piece of luck in running bell out through a deflection at the bowlers end and spectacular caught and bowl from Murali brought the lankans back into the game. The game was almost in Sri Lanka’s pocket at 133/6 till Paul Nixon a relatively unknown entity and a young Ravi Bopara forged a 87 run partnership that turned the tides.

Both the batsmen showcased the then unknown style of T20 batting keeping the English well and truly in the game. With high risk shots on offer surely the partnership was bound to break sooner rather than later, but it wasn’t to be. By the time the partnership was broken and the English were well in the game needing 16 off 7. It boiled down to Dilhara versus Bopara, 12 off 6 required. A Bopara paddle over short fine fetched a boundary off the second ball narrowing the equation further.

With three required to seal the game off the last ball Dilhara pulled out in his delivery stride increasing the anticipation, leaving the fans on the edge for few minutes which felt like an eternity. Finally the last ball was delivered, on a good length just in line with the off stump. Bopara backed away and slashed at it. The next thing the ball is racing down to the third man boundary past the keeper. Ranjith Fernando’s voice utters the phrase that felt like acid piercing through the ear drums ” Its gone for four, what drama” followed by a complete U-Turn “oh he’s bowled, oh he’s bowled” which sounded sweeter than a symphony just around dawn in Sri Lanka. Unlike the South African game, this time Sri Lanka ended on the right side of the equation in a nail bitter. With victories against Bangladesh, India, Windies and England the Sri Lankan juggernaut was certainly on a roll.

Semi Finals here we come                                                                          

Hopes were high with just one win required in remaining 3 games to book a semi-final berth. With an Irish game in hand, the ticket to semis was all but assured. A comprehensive outing against kiwis on avurudhu day booked a semi-final berth. This was followed by a loss to Australia where Sri Lanka fielded a weakened side predicting they would meet them in the finals and not wanting to expose the trump cards and a rout of Ireland to wind up super eights. The stage was set for the semi-final clash against the kiwis

A Mahela masterclass seals the deal at Sabina Park  

Sri Lanka’s impressive run in the build up to the semi-finals meant that they got to face a favourable opponent out of the remaining teams. Sri Lanka had the hoodoo over the Kiwis in World Cup outings and having beaten them in the previous round, the Lankans were a confident lot. The Sabina park wicket had assistance to the pacemen, with the likes of Bond, Franklin and Oram in their ranks Kiwis too would have fancied their chances with Sri Lanka batting first. The hopes rested on the aging shoulders of Sanath Jayasuriya who had been the torch bearer for the Lankan batting line up. With Sanath dismissed early the pressure was certainly on. The young Tharanga came good for the first time before being becoming victim to vettori. With Chamara Silva dismissed off an umpiring blunder the game was evenly poised with Mahela and Dilshan in the middle.

It was at this point that the master craftsman showcased his magical prowess sending the kiwis on a leather hunt, propelling the Lankans to a more than formidable score whilst notching up one of the most impactful centuries, only second to Aravinda De Silva’s Lahore exploits at that time. The ever efficient bowling line up did what they do best, crushing the Kiwis by a margin of 81 runs. A Mahela masterclass had propelled Sri Lanka to their second final in World Cup history.

A nation was was starting to dream again. There were religious ceremonies praying for a second world cup win, viewing parties planned across the island and in the build-up the days just did not seem to be moving fast. There was only one wish that 28th April night arrived fast.  The day arrived and the proceedings were far from ideal but they should not define the campaign.

It was a campaign full of magical moments, backed by remarkable consistency, fuelled by individual and collective brilliance. A team consisting of young and old, from different backgrounds and different styles pulled in the same direction under astute leadership, making a nation proud and hopeful, filling hearts filled with joy, rejuvenating minds with adrenaline rushes, moments to remember and experiences to cherish for a lifetime and that’s exactly what the 2007 world cup campaign should be remembered for.

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  1. I must say the Ranjith Fernando moment stands out from the tournament other than the discovery of Slinger Malinger. The Aussies had us covered in the final which I thought was very poorly administered by the ICC. There was a lot to do in order to beat Australia and one of them was to get rid of Gilly early and he did give a difficult chance but Fernando couldn’t hang on on his follow through.

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