stephen brenkley
LONDON, 12 JUNE: In a lovely piece of mischievous gamesmanship England’s finest were dared yesterday to use the scoop shot against Lasith Malinga. The challenge, for that is what essentially it amounted to, was laid down by Sri Lanka’s veteran batsman Mahela Jayawardene, a man who knows his way round the pitfalls of big limited-overs tournaments.
With the sides meeting in Pool A of the Champions Trophy at the Oval tomorrow, a tie that could easily determine the fate of both, the influence of Malinga’s viciously late and full reverse swing may hold the key. He came within a whisker and an umpire’s digit of taking Sri Lanka to victory in their pulsating contest against New Zealand on Sunday.
"Well let them try it and we’ll see," said Jayawardene when asked if the likes of Jos Buttler and Eoin Morgan should unfurl the scoop, one of their go-to shots. "It is a big chance if you want to go for it. It is a calculated risk and a few guys have tried. Some have come off and some haven’t and some have got hurt, hit on the toe and hit on the wrist and all that stuff."
Buttler (in photo), as casually fearless as he is enviably skilful, seemed ready to pick up the gauntlet left waiting for him. "Any shot is harder against reverse swing, but it’s a big part of my game," he said at England’s practice session at Dulwich College. "I practise it a lot and if I feel the situation is right I won’t be afraid to play it."
He has previously played against Malinga in two Twenty20 matches, for Somerset in the Champions League two seasons ago and for England in the World Twenty20 last year. In the first of those, Buttler faced five balls from Malinga, the first of which he boldly attempted to scoop and missed and in the second he hooked him to the arms of long on.
"But I’m confident I can put in some good performances against him,"’ said Buttler. "He’s different, but he’s been around a while so people are more used to him now than when he first came onto the scene.’ Jaywardene, however, was aghast that anyone would want to take such liberties as the scoop or anything else vaguely outrageous. He certainly would not. "No, not at all," he said. "Dilshan doesn’t play it against him either, not at all and not in the nets. Why would you want to do that? That is ridiculous. Guys have taken chances and it is a calculated risk." Since Tillakaratne Dilshan virtually invented the scoop and hallmarked it during the 2009 World Twenty20 Jayawardene may have had a point. Or he may have had a twinkle in his eye.
Malinga was irrepressible against New Zealand in three perpetually menacing spells that brought him figures of 4 for 43. Had Tim Southee been given out lbw when the ball hit him full on the toe with 12 runs still wanted, the outcome might easily have been different.
But England are bound to feel the more comfortable, having crushed Australia by 48 runs. Nerve-shreddingly close though Sri Lanka came against New Zealand before losing by one wicket, they now need to win to sustain a realistic hope of qualifying for the semi-finals.
Buttler said: "The batting outfit did a really good job. Hopefully the top four will continue to build that great base and set a platform for the likes of myself, Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara to come in at the end and score as many as we can as quickly as we can. We bowled exceptionally well, brilliantly up front, taking early wickets which is key to defending totals. With the new fielding restrictions you’ve seen what’s possible when people get in, but with the quality of our bowling attack we’re very confident we can take early wickets and put sides under pressure." the independent