It was a great Thursday for cricket lovers at Zahur Ahmed Chaudhury Stadium in Bangladesh’s port city of Chittagong. In a late afternoon match, Netherlands nearly pulled off another miracle, before narrowly losing their game against the mighty South Africans, who should be indebted to Imran Tahir for saving them the blush. In the game that followed at the same venue, England beat Sri Lanka in the last over after successfully registering a phenomenal run chase, made possible by an unbeaten century by Alex Hales. The victory will help England remain in the reckoning for a place in the semifinals.
The Netherlands is one team, which has kept people guessing before taking on their opponents. After the bombshell against Ireland, they folded in submission against Sri Lanka and many experts went into renewed debate on the team’s baptism as full ICC member. But the Dutch have steadfastly kept the tag of unpredictability and produced an amazing display of cricket on March 27, 2014. After their unashamed loss against Sri Lanka, they took the field on Thursday as underdogs. But they almost got the better of South Africa, who had beaten New-Zealand, two days ago in a breathtaking spell of pace bowling by Dale Steyn. After losing Quinton de Kock early, Amla and Faf de Plessis thrashed the Netherland bowlers to take the score to 45/1 in less than 5 overs of true power-play, before Amla got out. But Plessis and de Villiers went on in the same fashion and kept the scoring rate to around 10 per over. However, both Plessis and de Villiers departed in quick succession to leave South Africa at 92/4 in 10.1 overs. It was an ideal score for later order batsmen to build a good innings. Then suddenly, South Africa lost the rhythm as 5 wickets fell in the next 9.5 overs for the addition of just 53 runs. Ahsan Malik tied the South Africans down and returned with figures of 4-0-19-5. Netherlands openers Stephan Myburgh and Michael Swart played fearlessly against the South African pace bowlers and produced a first-wicket stand of 58, before Michael Swart fell as the first wicket. But the dangerous Myburgh continued in the company of another hard-hitter Wesley Barresi. The two of them carried the score to 80 in 7.5 overs at a very impressive rate of scoring. Anxiety gripped the South Africans, as they faced an ICC Associate. But just as South Africa had plunged from a good position in their innings, the Dutch also fell from 80/1 to 139 all out. The later order batsmen crumbled to some fine bowling by Imran Tahir, who earned the man-of-the-match award after South Africa won by just 6 runs.
The match between Sri Lanka went to the wire. Sri Lanka, batting first, lost Kusal Perera in the second over for just 4 runs. When the one-drop batsman Jayawardene faced Jade Dernbach on arrival, an edge flew from his bat to Michael Lumb. Diving full length forward, Lumb brought off a great catch. Sri Lanka could well have been 4/2, but the third umpire disallowed the catch, after several TV replays. From this point onwards, Jayawardene and Dilshan took the score to 149 before Jayawardene got out. Dilshan followed him soon but not before Sri Lanka’s old hands made sumptuous contributions with the bat. Mahela Jayawardene’s 51-ball 89 was studded with 11 fours and 3 sixes. Though he played listlessly at times, Dilshan still made 55 off 47 balls with 4 fours and 2 sixes. Through smaller contributions also from Thisara Perera and Angelo Matthews, Sri Lanka put on a formidable 189.
Faced with the victory target of 190, England began disastrously, losing 2 wickets with nothing on the board. Then came their savior, Alex Hales. In the company of Eoin Morgan, Hales put on 152 runs for the third wicket before Morgan lost his wicket after making an invaluable contribution of 57 off 38 balls with 7 fours and 2 sixes. Morgan and Hales started slowly and could only make 56/2 after 9 overs. To get the remaining 134 in the next 11 overs required something else. Morgan and Hales decided to go after the bowling of Mathews, Mendis, Thisara Perera and even Malinga. In the space of six overs, they had put on 86. Hales continued with Ravi Bopara, who faced only 6 balls but made 11 to ease the pressure a little bit. For his last 54 runs, Hales used only 20 balls and his unbeaten 116 off 64 balls contained 11 fours and 6 sixes. It was the first T20 hundred by an Englishman and the memorable chase culminating into victory by 6 wickets kept England’s hopes alive in the tournament.