Rewind: Allround Chamari Atapattu too good for South Africa

Chamari Atapattu celebrates her maiden T20I half-century. © Getty Images

Chamari Atapattu is one of those typical hard-hitting left-hand batters who does not need an invitation to go big from the word go. The ‘stand and deliver’ mould of batting with a high backlift, those big hits from her blade and those gorgeous drive through covers… You can watch it all day without getting bored.

Atapattu made quite a reputation in T20s with her aggressive style of play, but that maiden fifty eluded her for more than 50 innings. She had managed to reach forties four times but failed to get to that half-century. Considering she was skipper of the team and one of the mainstays in the batting order, this was indeed surprising.

“I scored more runs like 48, 49, 47 in lot of my previous innings but never scored a fifty,” Atapattu had said.

In the 2016 ICC Women’s T20 World Cup held in India, she had got starts – 17, 34 and 38 against New Zealand, Ireland and Australia respectively – but failed to convert those starts into something substantial. Sri Lanka had been knocked out of the T20 World Cup before their final match against South Africa.

On March 28, 2016, on a warm afternoon in Bangalore, Atapattu, after winning the toss, decided to bat first.  The dashing southpaw was cautious to begin with, and scored only three runs off six balls. The pressure of hitting certainly got to her when one of her mishits was put down by Dane van Niekerk at mid-off. She was on four then. Soon after, the hard-hitting batter struck two boundaries off Shabnim Ismail to get herself going.

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From then on she calmly rotated the strike and dispatched the loose balls away for boundaries. She was attacking yet was ready to bide her time in the middle, specially after the power play. The big burly basher batted with intent and responsibility. There was a certain conscious effort on her part to not throw her wicket away after the start she had got.

The first real sign of aggression from Atapattu came when van Niekerk came into the attack in the 12th over. The length bowled by the leg spinner was just perfect, as Atapattu powerfully swept and slog-swept van Niekerk for a four and six to put some pressure back on the South Africans.

Chamari Atapattu in action. ©ICC

Chamari Atapattu in action. ©ICC

Soon after that, she brought up her first T20I half century off 48 balls in the 16th over and there was a sense of relief on her face – a satisfaction that she did not waste the start that she had and managed a fifty at the grandest stage of all.

“Actually I am very happy about my performance because this is the T20 World Cup and I scored fifty in a World Cup so very happy about my performance,” she said.

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Soon after her fifty, she got out trying to steal a cheeky single, but Sri Lanka finished with a fighting total of 114.

Atapattu carried that confidence into the second innings and caught van Niekerk short of her ground for 24. Trisha Chetty and van Niekerk had added 50 runs, and skipper Atapattu, who came into the bowl in the tenth over, also sent back her opposite number, Mignon du Preez, for a four-ball duck.

The Proteas could not recover from the twin strikes and fell short by ten runs. Atapattu’s allround efforts earned her the player of the match award as Sri Lanka finished the tournament on a winning note.

“Last two matches we scored 125 against Australia and New Zealand but our bowlers didn’t do the job and fielders too did lot of lapses in the field, but today’s match the bowlers did very well. They bowled in good line and good areas, especially fielding too was brilliant so we could defend low total.”

The mercurial Sri Lankan skipper gave credit to her bowlers and felt her team showed enough character throughout the matches.

“We learnt a lot of things, we played in a tough group and played against Australia and New Zealand and scored 125 plus that’s the positive thing for us. In today’s match, we bowled very well and defended low score we as a team learnt lot of things and I am proud of my team’s performance we finished well in the T20 World Cup and I am really happy.”