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Nortje and De Kock lead South Africa to T20 World Cup win over Sri Lanka
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Nortje and De Kock lead South Africa to T20 World Cup win over Sri Lanka

“Ladies and gentlemen! Westbury is the next stop, change at Westbury for the Cricket World Cup!” After all these years, New York hosted its first game of big-time cricket on Monday, when South Africa beat Sri Lanka by six wickets at the brand new Nassau County ground on Long Island.

It is a scaffold palace of a pop-up stadium, 30 miles outside ­Manhattan. A crowd of 12,500 locals travelled out on the Long Island Rail Road to watch, and were rewarded with a beautiful day for a game. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the ­drop-in pitch tricky and quick, and batting was hellishly difficult.

Holding a World Cup in New York is an absurdly ambitious venture. The organisers have built a stadium larger than Lord’s out here in the middle of nowhere, and so much about it went so smoothly and well that it seems a shame to have to nitpick any part of it.

But the truth is that the drop-in pitch is a stinker. Only one batsman managed to score at faster than a run a ball, and that was Reeza ­Hendricks who made four. Overall, the game was played at a rate of just over four an over, and included all of 12 boundaries, six fours and six sixes, across both innings.

As Twenty20 games go, it made a good advert for Test cricket because it was oddly compelling despite the slow scoring, in that way ­low‑­scoring games can be. The New Yorkers – most of them Sri Lankan expats but with a good scattering of South Africans, Indians, English and Trinidadians mixed in – didn’t much mind. They seemed, in large part, delighted just to be at the match. They made a hell of a noise between them, even though Sri ­Lanka’s dismal 77 was their ­lowest total in T20 cricket.

Anrich Nortje celebrates a wicket against Sri Lanka.View image in fullscreen

The surface seemed to be two‑paced. Some deliveries shot by faster than a New York minute, others hardly bounced ankle high. There were two boundaries scored in the first 12 overs, one an uppercut by Kusal Mendis, the other a pick-up over midwicket by Kamindu Mendis. It wasn’t for want of trying. The Sri Lankans swung and missed so often against South Africa’s quicks that you wondered when the umpires were going to start calling the balls and strikes.

It didn’t help them any that South Africa have such a mean attack for this kind of pitch, with four fast ­bowlers – two of them, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, quicker than most, and another, Marco Jansen, taller than any. In the end it was the other one, Ottniel Baartman, who took control of the innings. He came on first change and had Pathum Nissanka caught at deep third with his very first ball. Baartman conceded only three off his first two overs, and at the end of the powerplay Sri Lanka were just 24 for one.

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You could already tell which way the game was headed, but not how fast it was going to get there after Baartman gave way to Nortje. It felt like the batsmen had crested one wave only to come down the other side and see the even bigger one that was about to break over them. Nortje dismissed Kamindu Mendis in his first over, caught in the deep, Kusal Mendis, in his second, caught in the deep, Charith Asalanka in his third, caught in the deep, and Angelo Mathews in his fourth, and you’ll never guess how. Nortje finished with career-best figures of 4-0-7-4.

Sri Lanka’s solution was to send Wanindu Hasaranga up the order to attack the South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj. Only Hasaranga was stumped off his second ball. Then Sadeera Samarawickrama was bowled by one after it. It took a couple of sixes from Mathews, and another from Dasun Shanaka to get their score up as high as the temperature. Their efforts were put into perspective by South Africa’s own trundling innings. You’ve never seen a team make a harder task of running down a target of 78. It took them 16.2 overs. Quinton de Kock batted the best part of an hour for 20, which was the top score on either side.

Source: theguardian.com