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Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Bali, Indonesia

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The Voyage of Spectacle

Sri Lanka Superfans — Episode I


Sri Lanka Superfans

Episode I — Before Grenada

After our outing to Trinidad and Tom Moody’s entreaty to come watch more games, we knew that we had to join up with the team once again.  Sri Lanka had advanced to the “Super 8” round of the tournament, in which a team plays each of the other remaining eight teams except for the one it has already played (in Sri Lanka’s case, this meant everyone except Bangladesh, which had advanced instead of India, you may recall).  This meant a minimum of six more games.  The top four teams from the Super 8 would advance to the semi-finals.

Which games to attend was actually quite an easy decision – three of Sri Lanka’s Super 8 matches were to take place in Grenada, an easy sail from St. Lucia.  Although this promised to delay our passage to Bonaire by at least three weeks, we were excited to go.

However, at the time of our decision, the games in Grenada were still two weeks away and Sri Lanka had their other three Super 8 games to play beforehand: (1) South Africa, (2) West Indies, and (3) England.

On March 28, we plopped down at Scuttlebutts to watch Sri Lanka take on South Africa, one of the tournament’s other top teams.  By 3:00 p.m., the rout was on – South Africa was destroying us as Melissa and I were spending yet another Caribbean day eating mediocre fried seafood washed down with high-alcohol, low-flavor beer (Piton, on this day).  In American football terms, we were down by four touchdowns.

By 3:45, we were hanging on every ball.  Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga bowled out FOUR South African batters on four consecutive deliveries — unheard-of in cricket.  It has never happened before in the World Cup.  In fact, it has never happened before in the history of one-day international cricket.  Non-cricket fans may have some difficulty appreciating this feat – it would be sort of like throwing four touchdowns on four consecutive passes or hitting four home runs in four consecutive at-bats (although he’s a “pitcher”).  Here is the video.  Having been at 205 for 5 (meaning they had five outs remaining), South Africa was suddenly down to its last out.  Unfortunately, they only needed 210 to win, and they hit a lucky boundary to win with less than two overs to spare.

More that anything else, this was indicative of how awesome the Sri Lanka bowlers are.  They are never out of the game.  The batsmen were terrible in the morning which is why they lost.  They were up against one of the best batting teams in the world, and they still nearly won.  At this point, we were more and more convinced that Sri Lanka was headed deep into the tournament, even though they lost this game.

Four days later, they took on the host West Indies and just destroyed them.  The West Indies won the toss and put Sri Lanka in to bat first.  After a slow start, Jayasuriya and Jayawardene settled in and bashed up the West Indies bowling for most of the morning, Jayasuriya making 115 off only 101 balls and Jayawardene making 82 off 113.  Ending up at 303, Sri Lanka posted its first impressive batting number of the tournament.

Then came the afternoon session, and, not surprisingly, the Sri Lanka bowlers dominated (especially Vaas), bowling out the Windies for 190 and a humiliating 113-run defeat.  This was a key win for Sri Lanka, as it meant they would be in the semi-finals with a win over either England or New Zealand.

Three days later, as we were packing up the boat to leave St. Lucia for Grenada and more Sri Lanka cricket, Sri Lanka was taking on England, a talented but psychologically fragile team.  Sri Lanka lost the toss yet again and was put in to bat first by England.  Opening batter Upul Tharanga made 62 but took 103 of the 300 balls to reach that total — an unacceptably slow scoring rate.  Again, it was the diminutive but brilliant captain, Mahela Jayawardene, who made the big contribution, scoring 56 off only 61 balls, as the other big guns didn’t fire for Sri Lanka.  To make matters worse, with 60 balls left Sri Lanka basically stopped scoring and ended up with a pretty shaky 235.

For a while, it looked like England would win easily.  Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen (the top-rated batsman in the world) were tearing up Chaminda Vaas, scoring 50 off the first 51 balls they faced together.  Then Sri Lanka brought in the ultimate weapon, Murali.  After slowing down the scoring, he got Pietersen (a one-man wrecking crew – even a novice can immediately see how good he is) to line a shoe-top comebacker to him (at the 1:52 mark of this clip).  Murali snatched it out of the air, and it was “Game On.”

At this point, the England middle order collapsed.  Our man Fernando (you know I love “pitchers” named Fernando) dispatched noted night-swimmer Andrew Flintoff for only two runs and, only two balls later, put out Paul Collingwood on only 14.

At this point, England needed 103 runs from 99 balls — not very likely from the lower end of their order.  I figured we’d bowl them out and win easily.  We started up the boat and got ready to push off the dock as soon as the collapse was completed.

Then unheralded 21-year-old batsman Ravi Bopara and aging journeyman wicketkeeper Paul Nixon improbably started bashing the ball all over the park against the world’s best bowlers, combining to make 94 off 97 balls.  All of the sudden it was a nail-biter.  With a handful of penalty runs added in, the pressure was mounting on Sri Lanka.

Indeed, it would come down to the last over of the game (at this point, I encourage you to click here and watch the final over) and, eventually, to the very last ball.  Sitting on 233, England needed two to tie and three to win.  Our man Fernando blew it past Bopara (actually bowling him out), and Sri Lanka was the winner, 235-233.  It’s hard to get a game much closer than that.

As soon as it was over, we dashed back to the already running boat (with about 90 minutes of daylight left), jumped on and pushed off for Grenada.  Sri Lanka was basically already in the semi-finals, but there would be plenty to play for on the Spice Island.

Click here for Part II of “Sri Lanka Superfans.”