Athapaththu, spinners help Sri Lanka pull off an upset in T20 World Cup opener

Athapaththu, spinners help Sri Lanka pull off an upset in T20 World Cup opener
Athapaththu, spinners help Sri Lanka pull off an upset in T20 World Cup opener

Sri Lanka 129 for 4 (Athapaththu 68, Gunaratne 35, Kapp 1-15) beat South Africa 126 for 9 (Luus 28, Ranaweera 3-18, Ranasinghe 2-20, Sugandika 2-28) by three runs

South Africa’s highly anticipated home Women’s T20 World Cup got underway in the most dramatic fashion with Sri Lanka securing a big upset against the hosts, winning by three runs before a record crowd in Cape Town.

This match had it all. A thrilling contest set up by Sri Lanka captain Chamari Athapaththu‘s half-century before her fellow old guard of Inoka Ranaweera, Sugandika Kumari and Oshadi Ranasinghe kept their cool to run through South Africa’s line-up and secure a memorable victory in front of 8402 spectators, the most for a women’s cricket match in South Africa.
Amid a friendly party atmosphere with the grass banks well packed with dancing spectators, the home fans grimaced in the tight moments, and screamed and fist-pumped in the good times, riding each wave with their team. And there were plenty of ebbs and flows too. South Africa’s quicks Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail contained Athapaththu and her opening partner Harshitha Samarawickrama early, before Athapaththu’s knock of 68 off 50 balls, in which she peeled off boundaries in clutches and staged an 86-run stand for the second wicket with 17-year-old Vishmi Gunaratne. Then Kapp took the key wicket of Athapaththu to keep South Africa’s target to an achievable 130. But Sri Lanka never gave up and reaped their reward with Ranaweera removing Laura Wolvaardt, Kapp and captain Sune Luus and, ultimately, dashing the hopes of the home side.

Sri Lanka keep their cool

Tazmin Brits never really got going after being struck on the helmet attempting a pull shot off Achini Kulasooriya and fell slicing Ranasinghe to extra cover. Kapp scored only 12 before she holed out to mid-on and when Ranaweera struck again to remove Wolvaardt with 77 needed off 10.2 overs, South Africa were still ahead of Sri Lanka at the same point but by no means safe.

However, with Luus and an in-form Chloe Tryon at the crease, there appeared no reason to panic. But then Tryon and Anneke Bosch fell in the space of three balls, and Luus, who was saved by a wayward throw after a terrible mix-up with Sinalo Jafta, was stumped as Ranaweera claimed her third and put her side within reach of victory. Needing 13 off the last over, Ismail was run out and Sugandika yielded just two runs off the next three balls, meaning that Nonkululeko Mlaba’s four off the last was not enough.

Athapaththu to the rescue (again)

Athapaththu lifted Sri Lanka after a slow start and, while it was a script we had read before – she has now scored all three of Sri Lanka’s fifties at Women’s T20 World Cups and seven of their top eight scores at the tournament – it was vital. By the end of the powerplay, they had just 28 runs on the board and at the halfway point of the innings were 45 for 1.

The match was almost four overs old before Sri Lanka found the boundary, via Athapaththu’s slash through extra cover off Kapp. She reeled off two more back-to-back with a slog sweep and then a pull as Mlaba bowled first too full, then too short. Nadine de Klerk entered the attack in the seventh over with immediate effect though as Samarawickrama spooned the ball straight to short midwicket.

Athapaththu knew she had to get moving and she unleashed three fours in a row off de Klerk, twice through extra cover before pulling a short ball over deep square leg. Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s Under-19 captain, then piled on three more in a row, dispatching Ismail through deep midwicket, slicing past deep third and clearing wicketkeeper Jafta’s head.

Gunaratne added 35 off 34 balls before a direct hit from Brits ended her stand with Athapaththu after she had nudged Kapp towards short cover for a quick single. But then Kapp made the major breakthrough, as Athapaththu picked out de Klerk at deep-backward square leg.

After a tearful start to the match when wife Dane van Niekerk, having been controversially left out of the squad for failing a 2km running test, helped her mark out her run-up before heading to the commentary box, Kapp ended the evening as South Africa’s best bowler, her four overs costing just 15 runs after she and Ismail had smothered Sri Lanka early. Ismail chimed in at the end with the wicket of Nilakshi de Silva and let out a roar. But it would turn to more tears, this time for Luus, who has taken over the captaincy from van Niekerk and whose task of taking her side to the knockout stage just became infinitely harder.

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