Avishka Fernando, bowlers hand West Indies another defeat

Avishka Fernando scored his maiden ODI hundred
Sri Lanka v West Indies, World Cup 2019, Chester-le-Street July 01, 2019

Sri Lanka 338 for 6 (Avishka 104, Kusal Perera 64, Thirimanne 54*, Holder 2-59) beat West Indies 315 for 9 (Pooran 118, Allen 51, Malinga 3-55) by 23 runs

As it happened

It's around this time in a World Cup that teams whose campaigns haven't turned out too well start to consider the future, and how to move forward. With both Sri Lanka and West Indies out of contention for further honours here, it was left to two of the brightest young talents in each team to light up the dead rubber, and provide a little hope that the next time might not be so bad.

Avishka Fernando, all of 21, scored his maiden international hundred to set up Sri Lanka's 338 for 6 - by far their highest total of the tournament - and Nicholas Pooran, three months shy of his 24th birthday, responded with 118 - his first international century too - to threaten a remarkable comeback in what would have been the highest chase at a World Cup. Foreshadowing what could be a brighter future for both Sri Lanka and West Indies, this was the first time in World Cup history that two men under the age of 25 scored hundreds in the same match.

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Not to be outshone by the youngsters, Angelo Mathews was airdropped in to bowl the 48th over of the chase, having not bowled a single ball previously in this World Cup or, indeed, in any ODI since December 2017.

In what was possibly the most left field moment of what has been an up-and-down tournament for Sri Lanka, Mathews, gammy hamstring and all, came on to bowl with West Indies needing 31 from three overs, and a marauding Pooran on strike. His first ball was sprayed full and very wide, but Pooran flung his hands wildly at it and edged it through to Kusal Perera behind the stumps.

Having not bowled for a year and a half, Mathews' very first ball won Sri Lanka the match, dismissing Pooran and turning a back-and-forth contest decisively Sri Lanka's way before Lasith Malinga returned to mop up a 23-run win. A match where the result really didn't matter might have meandered into a meaningless snoozefest, but the two young centurions, along with Fabian Allen, who scored an enterprising fifty, provided rich entertainment for fans of both sides and made for an absorbing afternoon's cricket. There were 653 runs scored and all three results very much a possibility until the very end, which is about as much as one could ask for from a dead rubber.

When West Indies slipped to 145 for 5 with the required rate nudging over eight an over in the afternoon, such a close finish seemed highly unlikely. But West Indies clawed their way out of a worse position than this, and very nearly pulled off a win, against New Zealand just over a week ago, and once again they gave an indication that, although they're not yet a team who knows how to always win, they're also not one that knows when they're beat.

Against New Zealand, it was Carlos Brathwaite who had sparked the revival, but today he was very much the junior partner in a 54-run stand that kept West Indies ticking even after an inconsistent Jeffrey Vandersay had burgled Jason Holder's wicket for 26 to put West Indies five down and Sri Lanka on top. Brathwaite managed just eight runs to Pooran's 39 in the partnership before he was run out very unluckily via a Pooran straight drive and the very tip of Udana's finger, and it seemed everything would now depend on Pooran.

But Allen, who has two First Class hundreds and a growing reputation as a finisher in T20 cricket, showed he is no slouch either, bursting out of the blocks with two crisp leg-side boundaries in Malinga's second spell. Driving and pulling the Sri Lankan quicks with disdain, he seized the initiative, and very nearly the match, before a mix-up saw him run out with six overs to go.

Pooran brought up his ton off the very next ball, keeping West Indies in the hunt by chipping Malinga over Thisara Perera's head at long off and then clubbing Udana cleanly to the midwicket boundary. Then came Mathews gobsmacking, match-winning return to allrounder status.

Mathews only scored 26 runs to go with his vital 1 for 6, but Avishka found multiple capable partners in what was altogether the most convincing performance from Sri Lanka's middle order all tournament. Building upon the 91-run opening stand and Kusal Perera's bruising 64, Avishka cobbled together stands of 85, 58 and 67 with Kusal Mendis, Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne to set up the innings.

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On a pitch that Avishka himself called "two paced", it was generally the fuller length deliveries that caused trouble, with cutters and changes of pace also bringing streakiness into the batting. There was also something in it for the spinners, and Allen pulled off what is a strong nomination for the catch of the tournament as he flew to his right to cling on to a stinging return chance to get rid of Mendis.

And so Avishka didn't have it all his own way, and survived a West Indies review off the second ball he faced, Holder troubling his front pad. Gradually, he found his groove off the front foot. And when West Indies dropped short, he was ready and waiting for them.

Sri Lanka's batting training in the lead-up to this game included specific drills against the short ball, and the hard work paid off particularly well for Avishka. A full 29 of his 104 runs came towards midwicket, and 21 of those - two huge sixes and a four off Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas bouncers - came from pull shots. On a slow pitch, the conditions took the sting out of West Indies' short balls, but Avishka was also clearly prepared.

In response, the general feeling seemed to be that West Indies needed a Chris Gayle special up front if they were to mount a challenge at a record chase. He never really got going, top-edging Kasun Rajitha to fall for a 48-ball 35, and instead of their old veteran, it was left to West Indies' young tyros to match Avishka's effort and balance out the game.

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