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West Indies 236 for 2 (Hope 110, Lewis 65) beat Sri Lanka 232 (Gunathilaka 55, Karunaratne 53, Bandara 50, Holder 2-39) by eight wickets
(CRICINFO) A brilliant century from Shai Hope – his tenth in ODI cricket – led West Indies to a crushing eight-wicket win over Sri Lanka in the first ODI in Antigua.
Set 233 to win, West Indies knocked off the runs with three overs to spare, with the sort of ruthless efficiency it is generally so difficult to execute against Sri Lanka, particularly on slower tracks that might have something in them for spinners.
A 143-run opening stand between Hope and Evin Lewis, who scored an uncharacteristic, yet impressive, 90-ball 65, effectively froze Sri Lanka out of the game before their spin bowlers had a chance to get stuck into it. A clinical unbeaten 37 from Darren Bravo guaranteed Dimuth Karunaratne’s men would not be permitted a sniff after that stand was broken, the total Sri Lanka had put up after winning the toss shown to be well below par.
While Sri Lanka’s innings had also begun with a glistening century partnership, West Indies had the advantage of knowing exactly what was required, and were laser-focused on achieving it with the minimum fuss possible. There was limited running between the wickets early on but Hope and Lewis continued to find a boundary an over or so, both particularly severe on any line they could work through the covers. They brought up fifty inside nine overs, with Sri Lanka introducing spin right after, but at that point, the openers began to milk the singles, the left-right combination never quite letting the Sri Lankans settle into a rhythm.
Perhaps it was the pitch – which offered limited purchase for the slower bowlers – or maybe Sri Lanka had an off day, but rarely have that side’s spinners looked as toothless as they did today. There was an inevitability to the hundred partnership, and the ease with which both batsmen brought up their half-centuries, and how West Indies shrugged off the wicket of Lewis, will have surprised even the most partisan West Indies supporters. There was even time for a bit of flair as Hope stormed to 99 with a six over long-on, before a glorious drive brought up three figures.
If anything, it was the pace of Dushmantha Chameera that appeared to trouble West Indies most, and the fast bowler, who has often been troubled by back injuries, was responsible for both wickets that fell. Lewis was undone by a perfect yorker that he failed to get his bat down for, before a peach of a slower delivery whooshed past Hope’s bat and clattered into his off stump just after he had brought up a hundred. They were just consolation strikes for today, but if Chameera can remain injury free, his importance to his side, both for this series and in the long term, could be exciting.
In the morning, Sri Lanka played out a topsy-turvy innings that began with a sparkling 105-run opening partnership, but West Indies continued to strike throughout the 50 overs to repeatedly peg the visitors back, bowling them out for 232 inside 49 overs.
Half-centuries from Danushka Gunathilaka and Karunaratne at close to a run-a-ball saw Sri Lanka bring up the three-figure mark inside 19 overs, before a spate of wickets through the middle order saw much of that hard work undone. It included a deeply controversial incident where Gunathilaka was given out for allegedly obstructing the field after West Indian captain Kieron Pollard appealed, and the couple of run-outs that followed put West Indies on top.
There was plenty to like about the Sri Lankan innings once they won the toss and batted first, but the only thing likely to be remarked upon at any length is the moment of Gunathilaka’s dismissal that changed the tide of the game.
Pollard, who was hugely influential through the innings, had just dismissed Karunaratne with his second ball, before he served Gunathilaka a short delivery in his next over. Pathum Nissanka, on debut, set off for a single his partner wasn’t remotely interested in, and Pollard, sensing a run-out opportunity, raced to get hold of the ball, nestled beside Gunathilaka’s feet.
As the batsman took a backward step to ensure he remained inside his crease, he trod on the ball, knocking it back, leading to Pollard’s furious appeal. It appeared there was no way replays could establish Gunathilaka had deliberately foiled a run-out attempt, but TV umpire Nigel Guguid took little time reaching that conclusion, ending a delightfully fluent innings.
The game took on a tetchiness and Pollard threatened to Mankad the non-striker, Nissanka, who was in the action once more with a risky second run putting paid to another of his partners, Angelo Mathews, as Pollard flicked off the bails. Nissanka’s miserable, brief stay at the crease would end an over later, when he was run out as Sri Lanka attempted another needlessly chancy single.
Amidst the drama, it might be easy to forget the awareness and quality Pollard and Jason Mohammed bowled with to trouble Sri Lanka. They took the pace off on a somewhat slow pitch to stymie Sri Lanka’s fluency, with the visitors guilty of occasional impatience that brought the end of Kamindu Mendis and Wanindu Hasaranga. Ashen Bandara, on ODI debut, showed great maturity, regularly rotating the strike and punishing loose deliveries – uncommon though they were – to steer Sri Lanka past 200 and bring up his half-century.
It need not have been as laboured as that by the way Gunathilaka and Karunaratne went about things. After a staid first six overs, the two began to speed through the gears, hitting six boundaries in nine balls off Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph to make up for lost time. Gunathilaka, in particular, took on the role of aggressor, refusing to let Romario Shephard settle and manipulating the field expertly as dot deliveries became increasingly scarce.
It might not have mattered given the way Hope and West Indies batted, but considering how sharply Sri Lanka’s fortunes slumped from the moment of Gunathilaka’s dismissal, it is that moment, rather than Hope’s brilliance, this game is likeliest to be remembered for.