There was a definite air of inevitability about events at Kardinia Park on Thursday, as Sri Lanka asserted their historic superiority over the Netherlands and won by 16 runs to secure their place in the Super 12.
The defeat left the Dutch hoping that the UAE could pull off a shock win against Namibia in the final match in the group, but the probability was that despite two wins and a heroic effort against Sri Lanka, their tournament had come to an end.
That said, Scott Edwards’ side did much better with the bat than their predecessors, who had collapsed to 39 all out and 44 all out on the two previous occasions the side had met in the T20 World Cup, in 2014 and 2021.
But chasing 162 against a strong attack, even on a pitch which gave the batters a better chance than it had on Sunday or its neighbour had on Tuesday, was always likely to be too great a task for a batting side which has struggled to maintain momentum outside the initial powerplay, and despite a magnificent unbeaten, 53-ball 71 from Max O’Dowd that was how it turned out.
The Dutch attack again performed splendidly up front after Dasun Shanaka won the toss and elected to bat, restricting the openers to 36 in the powerplay.
Then Paul van Meekeren, generating real pace, removed Pathum Nissanka and Dhananjaya de Silva with successive yorkers, and at the halfway point in the innings the total was a modest 60 for two.
Tim Pringle and Roelof van der Merwe had mostly kept the batters quiet, but four overs of pace between the tenth and thirteenth overs yielded 36 runs, and gradually the momentum swung towards the Sri Lankans.
Opener Kusal Mendis was still there, he and Charith Asalanka adding 60 for the third wicket from 45 deliveries, and after Bas de Leede had had the latter caught behind by Scott Edwards for a 30-ball 31 cameos from Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Shanaka kept the scoreboard moving at around ten an over.
Van der Merwe’s back problems saw him leave the field after bowling his third over – a factor which would have a crucial influence on the game’s denouement – and although three wickets fell in the last three overs, Mendis finally holing out to sub Logan van Beek five balls from the end for a superb 44-ball 79, Sri Lanka closed on 162 for six.
Van Meekeren was the pick of the bowlers with two for 25, while Van der Merwe conceded just 16 from his three overs.
The Netherlands’ battling last-over victories against the UAE and Namibia had come on the back of strong starts in the powerplay, but this time they managed just 40, losing the wickets of Vikram Singh and De Leede in the process.
The pace of Lahiru Kumara, in to replace the injured Chameera, and the spin of Maheesh Theekshana and Wanindu Hasaranga steadily built the pressure, with Binura Fernando lending good support, and after ten overs the Dutch had reached just 63 for three, exactly a hundred needed from the final ten.
But their batting lacked their opponents’ firepower, and even a sustained assault by Edwards on Hasaranga, sweeping him repeatedly and effectively, was not enough to prevent a steady rise in the asking rate; when the Dutch captain was bowled around his legs by Fernando 63 were still needed from 33 deliveries.
Wickets now fell at at least one an over, Hasaranga bowling Timm van der Gugten and Fred Klaassen and Pringle and Van Meekeren falling to run outs from direct hits.
But O’Dowd stood firm, and when he struck Fernando for a six and two fours from successive deliveries, 39 were needed from the final two overs.
The injured Van der Merwe had come to the crease as last man, but it was evident that he could only move painfully and with great difficulty, and it was left to O’Dowd to try to pull off the miracle the Dutch needed.
He did his best, twice belting Theekshana for six in a strangely ill-discipled over from the Sri Lankan off-spinner, but still 23 were needed from the last.
Kumara kept it to six, including a heroically-run bye by Van der Merwe, and the Dutch had fallen just short.
It was a painful conclusion in more ways than one, and if the disgraceful tournament structure had done them no favours it was also true that the limitations of their batting in their first two matches had also cost them dear.
But it’s fair to say that the entire squad will now be the UAE’s most enthusiastic supporters in the final game.
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