Battling Dutch take Sri Lanka (almost) all the way

The Dutch threatened a major upset on several occasions but were ultimately undone by Sri Lanka's spin

You might reasonably suppose that if anyone asked an AI program to produce a report on a random match involving the Netherlands and an ICC Full member, the phrase ‘gallant in defeat’ would appear somewhere near the top of it.

Events at Takashinga on Monday are obviously a notable exception, but the story at the Queens Sport Club in Bulawayo on Friday, when the Dutch dominated most of the game against Sri Lanka but nevertheless lost by 21 runs, reverted to a familiar pattern.

When, after Dasun Shanaka had caused a mild sensation by electing to bat first, Logan van Beek and Ryan Klein had reduced the Sri Lankans to 34 for three in seven overs, it seemed as if a major upset might be on the cards, and on a pitch which contrasted strongly with the batter-friendly surfaces we have become accustomed to in this tournament, it took a superb innings from Dhananjaya de Silva to dig his side out of trouble.

Van Beek’s carried on from his walk-on-water efforts against the West Indies by getting Pathum Nissanka well caught by Saqib Zulfiqar at cover off the very firfst ball of the game, and his initial six-over spell yielded him three wickets at a cost of 21 runs.

When Edwards turned to his spinners Zulfiqar produced his most sustained spell of leg-spin for the national team, taking two for 28 from his overs, and Aryan Dutt maintained the pressure at the other end with an equally-controlled one for 34.

Opener Dimuth Karunaratne had compiled a steady 33 as chaos reigned around him, but at 131 for seven with seventeen overs left Sri Lanka were still on the ropes; it might have been even better for the Dutch had they not burned both their DRS challenges in the first seven overs, since replays showed that Klein almost immediately had Karunaratne leg-before when he was on 18, the not-out decision certain to have been reversed had Edwards been able to challenge it.

There was no questrion, however, about Dhananjaya’s resilience and skill, and with support from Wanindu Hasaranga and then from Maheesh Theekshana, with whom he added 77 for the eighth wicket, he was able to get Sri Lanka to a total which would very probably cause the Dutch some problems.

Bas de Leede returned to clean up the tail, finishing with three for 42, but it was Dutt who removed Dhananjaya for 93, his best ODI score and the foundation of Sri Lanka’s much healthier total of 213.

It looked healthier still when Lahiru Kumara removed Vikram Singh with the second ball of the Dutch reply and Dilshan Maduskanka trapped Max O’Dowd with the seventh, the left-armer’s first delivery in the tournament; neither opener had scored, and the Netherlands were 11 for two.

But Wesley Barresi had come in, driving like Max Verstappen; he had announced his arrival with two glorious straight drives off Kumara, and he raced to a run-a-ball 26 while De Leede was establishing himself at the other end.

But although Madushanka was a real handful, bowling full and straight and generating greater swing at 140 km/h than the Dutch seamers had managed, it was the Sri Lankan spinners who were the lurking threat.

Theekshana was into the attack by the fifth over, but Barresi was determined to nullify the threat, and when Hasaranga came on immediately after the powerplay he was treated even more roughly, 19 coming from his first two overs.

The Sri Lankan outcricket seemed to be collapsing, a succession of overthrows adding seven to the Dutch total, and with both De Leede and Barresi successfully challenging LBW decisions – both involving a palpable inside edge – one almost began to wonder whether the umpires weren’t keener to see a Sri Lankan victory than were the Sri Lankans themselves.

Barresi reached his half-century, his first in ODIs since 2018 and one of his most assured, from just 48 deliveries, and at 86 for two after 14 overs the Netherlands were apparently on course for a comfortable victory.

But then came a decisive moment: De Leede pushed Dhananjaya into the covers, where Shanaka stretched to his left, gathered and threw, and the return beat a lunging Barresi as he tried desperately to reach the other end.

And Sri Lanka swarmed through the opening thus created: Hasaranga immediately bowled Teja Nidamanuru for a duck as he failed to pick the googly, and although Scott Edwards promptly went on the sweep, the return of Theekshana six overs later produced the dismissal of De Leede for a 53-ball 41, immediately after Edwards had been reprieved from aother umpiring mistake.

That made it 127 for five, but such was the menace of Theekshana, Dhananjaya and Hasaranga that the 87 runs still needed suddenly seemed a yawning chasm.

Theekshana trapped Saqib in front and bowled Van Beek four balls later, and now it was 133 for seven and only Edwards and the tail stood between Sri Lanka and a Lazarus-like recovery.

As long as the skipper was there, though, the Dutch still had grounds for hope, although there was another catastrophe when Edwards called Shariz Ahmad through for a bye to keeper Mendis, whose throw to the bowler’s end was too quick and too accurate for Shariz’s dive.

So it was left to Klein and Dutt to support Edwards, and gradually the deficit came down, from 63 to 44, to 38, before Hasaranga did Klein with another googly and bowled him through the gate.

Edwards had meanwhile reached his fifty, his 13th in ODIs, Dutt containing the threat of the three spinners pretty effectively, but when Shanaka came back he pierced the number 11’s defences and it was all over.

Edwards remained not out on 66, another splendid captain’s innings, but one could not help wondering whether he might not have been more proactive in farming the strike in the closing stages.

The Dutch had given Sri Lanka an almighty scare, bowling and fielding magnificently, but the old vulnerability against quality spin told in the end, and this match must be added to the growing list of might-have-beens.

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