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.
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.
Summarized scores: 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