Sri Lanka 307 (Mendis 55, Dhananjaya 51, Joseph 4-65) beat West Indies 301 for 9 (Hope 72, Ambris 60, Pooran 51, Allen 37, Mathews 4-59) by six runs
Fabian Allen was on a rampage. He’d struck three sixes (one of them 98 metres long) plus two fours, and was on 37 off 14 balls. He’d just crashed one over cover, and seemed set to close out the game, only nine runs needed off the last five deliveries. But Angelo Mathews, went back through the years, resurrected what seemed for so long to be a dead-and-buried version of himself, and sharpened the next ball with considerable bowling wit. Allen tried to swing it over midwicket for what would have effectively been the match-sealing six. But Mathews had taken just enough pace off, and Kusal Mendis was standing at just the right place to take the catch above his head, maybe two feet in from the boundary.
This was the moment this ebbing, flowing game was won by Sri Lanka – West Indies’ No. 10 and 11 unable to seriously challenge the target with only four balls remaining. Sri Lanka’s batsmen had combined beautifully to get the team to 307, but it was Mathews who really clinched the game. With captain Dimuth Karunaratne missing his usual death bowler in Nuwan Pradeep, who left the field clutching his leg after 4.3 overs, Mathews was required to deliver his full quota – the first time he’d done this since way back in July 2015. He took 4 for 59.
Angelo Mathews, winning a match with the ball again. It would have seemed such a fantasy even six months ago.
That West Indies even got close to this target was down to an outstanding 111-run opening partnership between Sunil Ambris and Shai Hope. The former made a run-a-ball 60. The latter hit his third fifty of the series and collected the top score of the game for the second time in three matches, with 72. Nicholas Pooran was shunted up the order to No. 3, and hit 50 off 61 balls himself. Captain Kieron Pollard also made a strong run at this target, making 49 off 50.
But both Pooran and Pollard – batsmen who could have taken the game away if they had been allowed to survive – were dismissed by Mathews, then at the death, he claimed the wickets of Jason Holder and Allen as well. Earlier, he had been the only batsman in Sri Lanka’s top seven not to make 25. And yet, he almost undoubtedly played the most definitive hand this game.
It had been three good partnerships that propelled Sri Lanka to their imposing score, on what actually seemed a slower-than-normal Pallekele surface. First, Avishka Fernando and Dimuth Karunaratne made 60 together off 62 balls. After the openers fell, the two Kusals – Mendis and Perera – came together to produce perhaps the best batting surge of the match, totaling 89 off 74 in each other’s company, in the middle overs no less. Towards the end of the innings, Dhananjaya de Silva and Thisara Perera made 64 off 50 balls together.
There were no star batsmen, really. Just a series of excellent contributions, from which two in particular stood out. Mendis’ 55 off 48 was full of efficient sweeps, ferocious pulls, and a flat-out refusal to allow West Indies’ spinners to bowl cheap overs. Later, de Silva had a little luck while starting his innings, his mis-hits only just carrying above the outstretched hands of infielders, while edges skimmed past the keeper and brought him boundaries. But he too made a half century, eventually settling into his graceful batting self – backing away and blasting Alzarri Joseph through the covers on one occasion, then reaching his fifty with a delightful aerial flick over square leg. He made 51 off 47.
West Indies’ effort in the field was frustrated by their own continuing indiscipline, both with the ball where they sprayed it around too much, and in the field where they were sloppy yet again. But it was also hampered by injury – Allen unable to deliver a single ball, because he hurt his shoulder while patrolling the boundary. They also had a bowler take a clump of wickets – Joseph finishing with figures of 4 for 65, each of his victims an important opposition batsman. But they paid for being too loose through the middle overs in particular, firing too many down the legside, and allowing partnerships to bloom and then flourish. Pollard and Roston Chase were the only bowlers to go at less than six an over, but even they were around the 5.1 mark.
From among the remaining Sri Lankans, Wanindu Hasaranga had another outstanding outing with the ball, that googly once again causing problems as he returned 1 for 41 from his 10 overs. Isuru Udana was the only other bowler to take a wicket for Sri Lanka, but he conceded 76. There were three run outs in the West Indies innings – a further indication of the improvement in Sri Lanka’s fielding in recent weeks.