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Recent Match Report – Surrey vs Middlesex, Twenty20 Cup (England), South Group

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Middlesex 209 for 3 (Malan 117) beat Surrey 172 for 9 (Pope 47, Roland-Jones 4-35) by 37 runs

The World Cup is over but the summer party has just begun, judging by the enthusiastic capacity crowd at The Oval, who watched Dawid Malan as the life and soul of Middlesex’s 37-run win over Surrey in their Vitality Blast match.

It was one of those evenings to remind you that when England actually does summer it feels like there’s no better place on earth – unless, of course, you’ve been stuck underground on the Northern Line with no air-conditioning waiting for a platform to clear at Kennington tube station.

Above ground, the beer flowed, the stands were brimming and the batting action from Middlesex – Malan in particular – was hot.

Unlike England’s World Cup triumph on home soil, proceedings didn’t exactly follow the script when man of the moment AB de Villiers was out for just 3 to what soon proved to be a poor lbw decision when replays showed his attempted reverse sweep off Imran Tahir made clear contact, according to Ultra Edge.

However, as unfortunate as that was, to focus too heavily on de Villiers – who had a wonderful night out in Middlesex’s opening match against Essex, where he plundered an unbeaten 88 off 43 balls in a seven-wicket win over Essex last week – would detract from a brilliant performance by Malan.

An unused member of England’s touring party for their T20I series in the Caribbean earlier this year, Middlesex captain Malan smashed 117 off 57 balls with 11 fours and seven sixes to play a big part in setting Surrey 210 for victory.

After Middlesex won the toss and elected to bat, Stevie Eskinazi and Malan set off at a blistering pace. Malan initially took a back seat to Eskinazi but immediately after the Powerplay, by which time the pair had put on 55 runs, Malan surged ahead, slamming a six and a four off the last two balls of Gareth Batty’s first over.

Malan moved in sight of his half-century first too. His thumping six off Imran Tahir sailed well back into the first tier of the Bedser Stand to bring him within touching distance of the milestone, which he brought up three balls later with a four. He didn’t stop there, meting out similar treatment to Liam Plunkett in the next over and hit Batty for consecutive sixes in the next.

The TV camera kept panning to de Villiers in anticipation and he finally made his entrace to the pumping beat of Darude’s Sandstorm – and a huge roar from the crowd – when Tom Curran bowled Eskinazi round the legs for 42 off 31 balls to put Middlesex at 131 for 1.

They cheered as de Villiers fended off a Tom Curran bouncer backward of point for a single, but his innings bit the dust in disappointing fashion a short time later and for the first time all evening the stands fell into a lull, even before replays showed how unlucky he had been in his dismissal.

It did not take long for the spectators to liven up again, though, as they enjoyed Malan’s knock. He reached his century off 49 balls with a single off Jade Dernbach, who later went for 23 off the penultimate over with Malan and George Scott indulging in a six and a four each.

Malan finally fell with three balls remaining in the innings, edging Curran to Ollie Pope, who took an excellent catch overhead catch behind the stumps.

With the temperature still hovering around 30 degrees at 8pm, the home crowd – although it didn’t feel particularly partisan – remained upbeat despite the considerable task facing their side.

Pope gave good chase after the early loss of openers Will Jacks and Aaron Finch, reaching 47 off 31 deliveries. But once he skied Toby Roland-Jones to Nathan Sowter to seal his exit it felt like there was too much left to do for Surrey. Jordan Clark offered a neat cameo of 21 off 11 balls but, with Curran and Dernbach at the crease and three wickets in hand, the hosts needed 53 off the last three overs.

Steven Finn took a strong catch, running round and diving at long-on to remove Curran off Roland-Jones and that all but signalled closing time. When Roland-Jones had Dernbach caught by Sowter four balls later to finish with 4 for 35 off his four overs, some revellers took the hint and made their exit, although the majority stayed to applaud the visitors’ victory.



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I had to do it – Dimuth Karunaratne on a special century

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Before his 122 in the fourth innings of this Test, Dimuth Karunaratne had not hit a hundred in over a year. Although the team had won in South Africa earlier this year, he had not personally contributed much during that series. This had grated. So had the fact that in between his last hundred, also at Galle last July, and this Test, he had hit eight half-centuries, but had not been able to convert to a triple-figure score.

This especially being a difficult era for openers – with pitches having become more bowler-friendly around the world – perhaps many would have been satisfied with churning out regular fifties. But Karunaratne is among those players driven by statistics. He has publicly stated that he wants 20-25 hundreds in his career. It was important to him that he broke this drought and got century No. 9 on the board.

ALSO READ: How Karunaratne uses other players to get ahead

“I had gone through quite a few games without a hundred, and I was telling the team that as well – that I haven’t scored a hundred in a while, and that I’ve got to somehow do it in this game,” he said after Sri Lanka claimed a six-wicket win in Galle.

“I had that hunger. I try to go for those big scores as much as I can. When I get the opportunity, I really push for that. In the South Africa, New Zealand and Australia tours I couldn’t quite get there, though I came close a few times. So when I got a chance here, in Sri Lanka, I made it happen. That’s a great source of confidence for me – to hit a hundred on a tough wicket like this.”

As has been the case throughout this Test, the new ball presented the greatest challenge, Karunaratne said – the bounce generated by the spinners in particular, creating wicket opportunities. The Sri Lanka openers, though, negotiated that period without losing a wicket. The 166-run stand between Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne broke the back of the 268-run target.

ALSO READ: Karunaratne joins select group with fourth-innings hundred

“I had a positive approach to this innings,” Karunaratne said. “We were watching the batsmen that did make runs, and we noted how they went about it. After the ball became a bit softer it became easier to bat, and then it was a case of using your feet to the spinners. We had a plan to do that, and we knew that whoever got a start needed to go big. Both myself and Thirimanne were able to do that. We batted well yesterday, and this morning we added a good 30 runs to that partnership. We set ourselves little targets and broke the chase down.”

On the bowling front, Karunaratne had spoken before the match of preventing the opposition from scoring quickly. England’s 3-0 win in Sri Lanka last year had seen the opposition succeed with an aggressive batting strategy – something Sri Lanka were keen to avoid with New Zealand. The tactical approach Sri Lanka adopted for this game was ultimately vindicated, Karunaratne said.

“Keeping New Zealand to around 250 in the first innings was a big thing. We made sure that for the shots that are easy to hit – shots with the spin for example – were covered off by fielders on the boundary. If a bowler bowled a bad ball, we needed that to cost only one run, because that’s a big advantage. There was a good chance bowlers would deliver good balls, because the pitch was taking turn, but in the meantime, we needed the bad balls not to cost us. It was really important that we didn’t let them get away from us at any stage.”



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‘Thought the wicket would deteriorate more than it did’ – Kane Williamson

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Yes, the previous best chase at this venue was only worth 99, and sure, 268 seemed like an excellent total to defend, but this particular surface got slower, not harder to bat on. So, at least, said Kane Williamson after New Zealand’s six-wicket defeat.

His analysis was not without strong evidence. New Zealand’s own tailenders had appeared comfortable on the surface during long stints in the middle on days three and four. And although there was significant turn, the majority of spin deliveries that Sri Lanka’s top order faced in the fourth innings did not spit, as they often do on days four and five on Sri Lankan tracks. The target was ultimately achieved with relative ease, thanks largely to Dimuth Karunaratne‘s 122 and Lahiru Thirimanne‘s 64, the pair putting on 161 for the first wicket.

“We thought the wicket would deteriorate more than it did,” Williamson said. “It perhaps got slower. It wasn’t turning a huge amount out of the rough. It didn’t get more difficult to bat on. I think there was a little bit more bounce and the turn was a little bit quicker in the first innings. Though, saying that, it was a good batting surface as well. I thought our bowlers operated patiently for a long period of time. We probably even bowled better in the second innings, but without the edges going to hand, and those sorts of things, which is the nature of the game we play.

“Still, I think in a last-innings chase, a lot of credit goes to the way Sri Lanka batted. It was a fantastic hundred by Dimuth.”

New Zealand’s two specialist spinners only claimed a wicket apiece in the second innings, having combined for eight wickets in the first innings. Mitchell Santner – the left-arm spinning allrounder – went wicketless through the Test.

“I though the bowling was outstanding on day four,” Williamson said. “Perhaps we didn’t have a lot go our way, and maybe we let the odd chance slip. We knew that on that sort of surface, if you are able to get a breakthrough things can happen quickly, as we saw later on today when perhaps the game was already lost. It was a shame not to get early breakthroughs.”

Williamson himself did not manage a score of significance, falling for 0 in the first innings and 4 in the second, despite coming into the series with some form, as he almost always does. Both his dismissals in Galle were the result of attacking shots – the second-innings dismissal especially, where he came down the track at Lasith Embuldeniya and holed out.

“Personally I was probably looking to be too positive when it wasn’t really required. In hindsight, if you go back in time, that wouldn’t have been the option, because the wicket was pretty much just getting slower rather than deteriorating.”

New Zealand, though, will be hopeful that something can still be salvaged from this series. On their last tour of the island, in 2012, they had also lost the first Test in Galle, but levelled the series at the P Sara Oval in Colombo, with both Williamson and Ross Taylor hitting centuries there. The P Sara is the venue for the second Test this time around as well.

“That last series here was a long time ago, but it was a brilliant performance from us to equal that series against a very strong Sri Lankan side. We’re up against a strong Sri Lankan side again who know these conditions very well. They’re very clinical at playing the sort of cricket that’s required here. We can take some lessons from the way they played as well. It was fairly evenly poised for a long part of the match. But they were exceptional in their last innings.

“For us, I think there were good bits in the game, but perhaps we weren’t good enough for long enough.”



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Recent Match Report – Sri Lanka vs New Zealand, ICC World Test Championship, 1st Test

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Sri Lanka 249 (Dickwella 61, Mendis 53, Patel 5-89, Somerville 3-83) and 259 for 4 (Karunaratne 122, Thirimanne 64, Mathews 25*) beat New Zealand 249 (Taylor 86, Nicholls 42, Akila 5-80, Lakmal 4-29) and 285 (Watling 77, Latham 45, Embuldeniya 4-99, De Silva 3-25) by six wickets

Dimuth Karunaratne played a big part in preserving his perfect record as Test captain as Sri Lanka brought up their third consecutive win since he took over, brushing New Zealand aside with a six-wicket win on the fifth day and picking up the full 60 points in their first World Test Championship match. In the process, Karunaratne also brought up his first century in 23 innings and his ninth overall as the hosts bested the previous record chase in Galle – 99 – by some distance.

Karunaratne came out just as positively as he had in the last session of the fourth day, adopting a simple strategy of working the spinners square on either side, off both front and back foot. In scoring 122, Karunaratne hit only six fours and a six, which belied his overall approach to prioritise a brisk scoring rate. To that end, he stepped out early in the day for a delightful flick off Ajaz Patel for a boundary, and then launched the left-arm spinner over the midwicket boundary four overs later to bring up the 150 stand for the opening wicket with Lahiru Thirimanne.

Between those two shots, though, were glimpses of the occasionally turbulent theme of his innings. Karunaratne had survived a stumping chance, and at least two legitimate catching chances on the fourth day. Shortly after that flick off Patel, he got a thick outside edge on the cut – a shot that he couldn’t quite control all innings long – that snuck through for a four, and was then dropped by Tom Latham at short leg. It was Latham’s third drop of the innings in that position.

That set the tone early in the day, and with every over of nudging and manipulating the field for singles, New Zealand’s resolve was visibly diminishing. Any hope came through Sri Lanka’s misadventures.

Lahiru Thirimanne, ever under scrutiny as a Test player, batted with composure and control throughout the innings in one of Sri Lanka’s most prolific 4th innings opening stands of all time. If he showed any shakiness during the innings, it was when he swept, and that was the shot that led to his dismissal, Will Somerville getting his man on the review. The opening stand was worth 161.

In keeping with the theme of his short career, Kusal Mendis managed to fit in both exquisite strokeplay and a frustrating surrender in an innings of six balls. With a solid platform laid and the opponents on the mat, his plan seemed to be to attack relentlessly, and this resulted in two pristine shots off Somerville – down the track quickly, using the spin to lift one over midwicket and the other over the long-on boundary. But the daring was short-lived when he swept Patel to midwicket next over, offering New Zealand some optimism with 94 runs to still get.

But the arrival of Angelo Mathews brought the calm it always has, and the veteran settled immediately into the role Thirimanne played for Karunaratne. New Zealand were switching bowlers fast, with Kane Williamson even trying himself for the first time in the Test, but the 44-run stand between the senior-most batsmen all but put Sri Lanka on the brink.

Karunaratne did eventually nick behind trying to chop outside the off stump, off a rare Tim Southee over. But coming in next was Kusal Perera, the burgeoning architect of Sri Lanka’s miracle chase against South Africa earlier this year. He had no issues slashing deliveries off that line – or dragging them into the leg side – and came out with what solely looked like the intention to finish the chase before lunch.

With his boundaries, he forced a four-over extension with 22 runs to get, but fell shortly after for 19-ball 23. Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva didn’t manage to get the runs in that period, but with only six runs to get, the umpires deemed it fit to give Sri Lanka another extension and the chase was sealed with a flick to fine, seven balls later.



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