Sri Lanka's sensational run-chase at the Gabba and other Houdini acts in ODIs

Nuwan Kulasekara in action against Australian in the first Commonwealth Bank (CB) final at the Gabba, Brisbane, on Sunday © AFP

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya 

 

In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail“- Vince Lombardi

 

Mahela Jayawardene’s men nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat against Australia in the first final of the Commonwealth Bank (CB) series. Had they crossed the line at Brisbane, it would arguably have been the ultimate Houdini one-day act of the summer Down Under. It has been a series of close finishes, but this one would have stood out for the sheer fight and verve with which the Lankans tackled what seemed a hopeless cause at one point of time in the run-chase.

 

At 144 for six, chasing 322, only the bravest punter would have put his money on Sri Lanka. Keeping the equation aside, the two batsmen in the centre were Upul Tharanga – a man who had made just nine runs from three games in this series, and Nuwan Kulasekara- a useful lower order batsman, but someone who is in the side primarily for his bowling. Furthermore, the Australian bowling attack had some formidable names in their ranks. Brett Lee and Shane Watson had their tails up and were running in with great energy. Considering all these odds stacked against them, it was a grand effort by the Sri Lankans – albeit in a losing cause.

 

Stats reveal a very interesting tale when it comes to victories achieved by rearguard action of the lower order. Firstly, for batsmen who have batted from No 8 to 11 in run-chases, only two have score over 70 in a victorious cause. A Sri Lankan victory would have seen Kulasekara join the list.

 

Here is a list of the highest scores achieved by batsmen (from No 8 to 11) in victorious run-chases:

 

Player

Match

Score

Balls

Fours

Sixes

SR

No 8 Heath Streak

Zimbabwe vs NZ

at Auckland, 2001

79*

67

4

5

117.91

No 8 Naeem Islam

Bangladesh vs Zimbabwe

at Chittagong, 2009 – 5th ODI

73*

90

4

4

81.11

No 8 Deryck Murray

West Indies vs Pakistan

at Birmingham, 1975

61*

76

6

0

80.26

No 9 Thomas Odoyo

 Kenya vs Ireland

at Nairobi, 2007

61*

36

5

1

169.44

No 8 Asif Mujtaba

Pakistan vs Australia

at Perth, 1997

60*

56

5

0

107.14

 

If Kulasekara had continued his fight and seen Sri Lanka through, Heath Streak’s 79 not out would have been antiquated. Even if Tharanga had guided the tail and sealed the deal, Kulasekara would have been third on the list. Although, Kulasekara’s name doesn’t feature in the table, it certainly reflects upon the greatness of his knock.

 

Secondly, a Sri Lankan victory would have seen them making a mark on a different page in the record books. Having lost half their side, with over 190 runs to get (deficit that is), only three teams have mustered a victory from such a hopeless situation. Here are those games:

 

Match

Team

batting 2nd

Score at

the loss

of

5th wicket

Runs required 

at said

point

Final score

New Zealand vs Australia

at Hamilton, 2007

 

NZ

116 for 5

231

350 for 9

Ireland vs England

at Bangalore, 2011

 

Ireland

111 for 5

217

329 for 7

Zimbabwe vs New Zealand

at Auckland, 2001

Zimbabwe

64 for 5

210

274 for 9

 

Sri Lanka lost their fifth batsman with 125 on the board – 197 runs behind the target. A positive result would have seen them stand alongside great victories such as Ireland’s shocker over England during the last World Cup.

 

300-plus target no longer a psychological barrier? 

 

The way Tharanga and Kulasekara approached their task told one a lot about the modern one-day game. A 300-plus total seems no more the humongous hurdle it was at one point of time. Even until the early 2000s, teams chasing 300 or more would be either circumspect or attempting to break the shackles instantly, which would generally result in collapses. With the advent of T20s, the fortress of 300 has been breached on numerous occasions. Teams plan their run-chases and back themselves even if they have to score at about 10 runs per over in the last 10-15 overs.

 

There have been 44 occasions where teams have scored more than 300 in successful run- chases. If one is to ignore the results obtained by the Duckworth-Lewis method and the instances where the target was in the late 290s and 300 were invariably achieved, then it leaves us with 38 instances. Of those 38 instances, 25 have occurred since the beginning of 2006. This coincides with the time when the world started taking note of the shortest format.

 

Quite clearly, the effect of T20 has had an impact on ODI when you realise the fact that in the first 34 years of ODIs, there were just 13 successful instances of teams chased over 300.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.)