by C. Kamalaharan
The Sydney Cricket Ground reverberated with the thunderous applause of the enthusiastic fans as they stood on their toes witnessing the 1st knockout quarter-final game of the 2015 World Cup tournament between Sri Lanka and South Africa. Right from the moment the players entered the ground a vibrant atmosphere prevailed. The fluttering of flags, the swaying of placards, the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets by the jubilant fans clad in their country colours with most faces masked and bodies defaced with attractive designs presented a festive mood.
On winning the toss the Sri Lankan captain opted to bat first and a clash of big hitters from both sides was eagerly expected. But contrary to expectations it turned out to be a low scoring match without even a six being hit by either side. The South Africans exerted tremendous pressure through their pacemen and spinners. They bowled the right length and line and their fielding too was disciplined. The Sri Lankan team a well balanced mix of youngsters and veterans having a strong batting line up failed miserably disappointing their fans. They lost the grip from the start itself as both the openers left early when the score was 4 for 2. Excepting Kumar Sangakkara’s 45 runs and Lahiru Thirimanne’s 41 runs the others were all out for a mere 47 runs. The South Africans in reply batted cautiously and outplayed the Sri Lankans by 9 wickets. None expected such a debacle of the 1996 World Cup Champions.
Kumar Sangakkara who had scored consecutive centuries in the last four matches remained hapless in the crease as the other batsmen failed to support him. He and Mahela Jayawardene the luminaries of Sri Lankan cricket left the grounds crestfallen. It was a sad farewell to the two cricketing giants who left the ODI waving their bats to the frenzied applause of the crowd. But the void created by them will not remain unfulfilled, for in any game once a player goes a new player emerges.
Seated in the stands I only had a bird’s-eye view of the game far below unable to keep tract of the fleeting moments of the ball particularly during the fast delivery of the pace bowlers. The instantaneous catches behind the stumps, the leg before wicket and the run outs were imperceptible. It’s only in the television sets one could get a clear and close up view of the game.
In the 2nd quarter-final match between India and Bangladesh the latter’s inability to overtake India’s score of 303 for 6 which included Rohit Sharma’s 137 and Suresh Raina’s 65 and face the varied pace cum spin attack cleverly handled by captain M.S.Dhoni led to India’s victory.
In the 3rd quarter-final match between Australia and Pakistan Australia emerged the victor in a close contest match by 6 wickets. Pakistan was dismissed for just 213 all out in 49.5 overs while Australia chasing 214 to win scored 216 for 4 in 32.4 overs. In spite of the perfect spell by Wahab Riza Pakistan lost the match mainly due to two important dropped catches.
The 4th quarter-final match between New Zealand and West Indies was a real treat for the lovers of the game. New Zealand scored 393/6 at the run rate of 7.86 while West Indies scored 250/10 at the run rate of 8.19. Mighty sixes hit by players from both sides landed into the stands. Martin Guptill’s innings of 237 not out included 24 boundaries and 11 sixes while Chris Gayle’s 61 off 33 balls included 2 fours and 8 sixes. The match would have tilted in favour of the West Indies had Marlon Samuels caught Martin Guptill in the third delivery.
The first semi-final match between New Zealand and South Africa was a cliffhanger of an ending. Fortunes fluctuated as both the teams fought hard. The South Africans were batting well piling a big score. Unfortunately a two hour rain stopped play and on resumption of play New Zealand was set to face a revised target of 298 under the Duckworth/Lewis method. While the New Zealand battered well the South Africans threw their might to prevent the ball reaching the rope. The dropped catches and the failed attempts to run out prevented South African of a sure victory. The century partnership between Grant Elliot and Corey Anderson gave New Zealand a tensed 4 wicket win. Till the end ecstasy and agony alternated in both sides resulting in exaltation in the Kiwis camp and despondency in the South African camp.
In the second semi-final match Australia trounced the defending champions India by 95 runs through its excellent bowling superb fielding and Steve Smith’s century. Among Indian bowlers Umesh Yadav took 4 important but expensive wickets giving away 72 runs in 9 overs. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma made an impressive start scoring 76 runs. With the exit of Shikhar Dhawan the much expected ace batsman Virat Kohli was caught behind for only I run. While the other batsmen failed to score captain M.S.Dhoni scored a slow and steady 65 runs in 65 balls. India’s hopes wilted when Dhoni was run out by Glen Maxwell’s direct hit with only one stump to aim at in the 45th over. The lower order batsmen mainly the bowlers led the side down in quick succession displaying their inexperience and lack of batting practice. They should take a leaf in Mitchell Johnson’s book, he not only captured two wickets but also smashed 27 runs not out in 9 balls. With Dhoni’s exit the fans left the stands solemly. India need not regret, they entered the World Cup tournament after their poor series in Australia and in the tri-series and made a creditable comeback with straight wins in the league and in the quarter-finals against Bangladesh. Except Dhoni the others are relatively young, capable of regaining the top position in the next tournament.
The world Cup tournament reached the decisive stage when both Australia and New Zealand the two co-hosts clashed at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the prestigious trophy. The 93000 spectators expected an exciting game ending in a nail – biting finish. But from the start it was a one-sided game dominated by Australia in all departments of the game. In spite of winning the toss and elected to bat first New Zealand was bowled out for 183 in 45 overs. Set to win 184 Australia achieved it in the 30th over. This being Michael Clark’s and Daniel Vettori’s last match before retirement from the ODI the crowd gave a standing ovation when they left the grounds. The cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar received one of the loudest cheers at the presentation ceremony as he stood on stage with the other dignitaries to hand over the Man of the match and the Man of the tournament trophies.
The spectators had a field day besides cheering their respective teams they revelled thoroughly. While walking along the lengthy corridor under the stands I saw them milling around purchasing food packets, souvenirs and light beer that has no ‘kick’. Bringing beer from outside is banned as it might lead to drunken brawls. A neighbour seated by my side quipped, “If I drink three glasses only I’ll get a slight ‘kick’.” I saw several restaurants rest rooms and terraces all along the corridor for the spectators to relax and enjoy the game. What magnificent stadiums are they!