With the ODI series between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in progress, the time is ripe to look back at an extraordinary low-scoring encounter between the two teams. The match in question was the final of a short four-match triangular series played at Mirpur’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in 2008-09, involving Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe as well as the hosts.
Bangladesh started the tournament off the wrong foot, losing to Zimbabwe by 38 runs in the opening game after failing to chase down 206. Zimbabwe themselves went down by 130 runs in their next game against Sri Lanka. Bangladesh then sealed a convincing five-wicket win, chasing 148 against Sri Lanka in a rain-reduced 31-over affair, thereby setting up a summit clash with the same opponents.
Not surprisingly, the trend of small totals on challenging surfaces continued in the final as well. Bangladesh’s win in the round-robin phase was only their second ODI success against the Sri Lankans, and it filled the locals with expectations of an encore. However, the Lankan pace attack proceeded to make life difficult for the home batsmen after their captain Mahela Jayawardene called the toss correctly.
Nuwan Kulasekara struck in his second over, inducing an edge from left-handed opener Junaid Siddique, who fell prey to a fine one-handed catch from Kumar Sangakkara behind the wicket. The following over, he jolted the Tigers again by castling Mushfiqur Rahim, reducing the score to 12/2. At the other end, Farveez Maharoof kept up the pressure by getting rid of captain Mohammad Ashraful.
Opener Tamim Iqbal attempted to dig in, but the combine of Kulasekara and Sangakkara, who claimed another brilliant catch, was too good for him. Kulasekara finished with 3/19 in an unchanged spell of eight overs. A lot rested on Shakib Al Hasan, but when Thilan Thushara removed him cheaply, Bangladesh were tottering at 54/5, four of the wickets being catches by Sangakkara.
Raqibul Hasan rebuilt the innings, getting involved in valuable partnerships with the lower order. He first shared in a stand of 44 runs with Mahmudullah for the sixth wicket and then put on a further 53 along with Naeem Islam for the seventh. Spinners Ajantha Mendis (3/24) and Muttiah Muralitharan then ran through the tail as Bangladesh lost their final four wickets for just one run.
Bangladesh’s innings wound up at 152 from 49.4 overs, with Raqibul left unbeaten on a gutsy 43 from 107 balls. The low-scoring pattern of the league matches notwithstanding, most observers expected this to be a straightforward chase for Sri Lanka, considering their rich experience of playing in – and winning – many an ODI tournament final over the years.
What followed instead was one of the most horrendous starts that an ODI innings has ever seen. The ‘Matara Marauder’ Sanath Jayasuriya, still going strong in his 40th year, fell victim to an ungainly mix-up with fellow opener Upul Tharanga off the very first ball of the reply. Non-striker Jayasuriya started to run after Tharanga hit one towards extra cover, but was sent back by the latter and was duly run out by a throw from Shakib.
Runs were reduced to a trickle after this inauspicious beginning, as Sri Lanka limped to 4/1 after five overs. Tharanga’s patience soon ran out and ended up chasing a wide one from Nazmul Hossain that was safely pouched by wicketkeeper Mushfiqur. Two balls later in the same over, Jayawardene was scalped too, caught behind for a duck. Sri Lanka were now 4/3 and needless to say, the Bangladeshis were pumped up.
The second ball of the seventh over saw Mashrafe Mortaza get into the action, as he had Chamara Kapugedera caught by Siddique at second slip. The scoreboard read 5/4; nearly six years earlier, in the 2003 World Cup, it was Bangladesh who were suffering at this very score against Sri Lanka, when a rampant Chaminda Vaas ran through their top order at Pietermaritzburg.
As if this was not nightmarish enough, Nazmul clean bowled a promoted Thushara off the last ball of the eighth over to collect his third wicket. The crowd went into a frenzy, the Bangladeshi players were ecstatic and a helpless Sangakkara was left to fathom at the unbelievable turn of events from the other end. Sri Lanka had jaw-droppingly lost five wickets for just six runs on the board, and the threat of an embarrassing defeat was very real.
This meltdown by Sri Lanka created a new ODI record for the least number of runs scored by a team at the fall of the fifth wicket. The previous lowest was 12 by Pakistan, en route to 71 all out against the West Indies at Brisbane in 1992-93. Bangladesh had beaten Sri Lanka only once in 24 ODIs in 22 years, but now they had a massive chance to notch two wins in three days against them.
Sangakkara was the last hope for Sri Lanka, and he admirably responded to the pressure. He steadily played himself in, inching closer to target and sharing in a seventh-wicket alliance of 63 with Maharoof, who had come in at 51/6. However, with 39 required off 42 balls, Sanga was out caught and bowled to Shakib for a 133-ball 59. Two balls later, Shakib dismissed Kulasekara too, making the score 114/8.
Muralitharan, averaging 6.01 in ODIs, walked out to join Maharoof in the middle. The required rate was six, and furthermore, Shakib’s double strike had given Bangladesh the momentum. The third Powerplay was taken at the very end, in the last five overs, from which 35 were still needed. Could Sri Lanka still sneak through for a last-gasp win? Muralitharan certainly felt so, and it was Rubel Hossain who bore the brunt.
Rubel was taken to the cleaners by Murali in the 46th over, as the wily spin wizard smashed 20 runs, including three fours and a six to swing the game in his team’s favour. Another ten runs off Rubel, from the last two balls of the 48th over, levelled the scores. Maharoof (37*) duly scored the winning single off the first ball of the penultimate over to seal a dramatic two-wicket win, leaving Bangladesh to rue a squandered opportunity.
Sangakkara was named man of the match, but he admitted that Muralitharan deserved the award more, for it was his cameo off 33* from 16 balls – a career-best – that put paid to Bangladesh’s hopes. Bangladesh are yet to win an ODI tournament featuring three or more teams; they agonisingly came close for a second time in 2011-12, when they lost the Asia Cup final at home to Pakistan by just two runs.
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