Wicketkeeper-batter holds nerve to make unbeaten 46 and consign Sri Lanka to its fifth defeat in a row.
Merissa Aguilleira is one of the calmest cricketers on the circuit, and she used her experience to help The West Indies open its account in the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017 with a 47-run win over Sri Lanka at the County Ground in Derby on Sunday.
With the youngsters still trying to learn the tricks of 50-over batting, the Windies could have easily collapsed after being 102 for 4 in 24.3 overs. But Aguilleira firmly guarded one end with an unbeaten 46 from No. 6 even as Deandra Dottin (38), Kyshona Knight (26) and Shanel Daley (21) hit some lusty blows to take Windies to 229 for 9.
Sri Lanka’s chase revolved around a third-wicket partnership of 61 between Chamari Athapaththu (26) and Shashikala Siriwardene (33). Once Anisa Mohammed had Athapaththu stumped and trapped Dilani Manodara leg before wicket off successive balls in the 25th over, Sri Lanka had little chance to recover. Anisa then bowled Siriwardene for 33 in the next over for her third wicket in nine balls. Sri Lanka was dismissed for 182 in 48 overs.
The striking aspect of Aguilleira’s innings was the composure she showed despite wickets falling at regular intervals at the other end. She hit just one four in the first 49 balls of her innings, showing her willingness to grind it out against some good spin bowling. Because she took her time and played with soft hands, the scoreboard kept moving. It helped that Dottin, as is her wont, hit seven powerful fours, forcing the Sri Lankans to alternate between attack and defence.
Even if she hit only two fours in her 59-ball knock, Aguilleira’s first boundary was really the shot of the match. It came in the 27thover, bowled by Siriwardene, Sri Lanka’s best spinner. Aguilleira swept with such force that the ball was past the ropes even before she had fully completed the follow through.
Dottin added 22 with Aguilleira before going for an unnecessary reverse sweep and being trapped in front by Inoka Ranaweera. Sri Lankan fans were delighted to see Dottin’s back. It was after all against their country in the last World Cup in India that Dottin had hit the fastest fifty in the history of the tournament – off just 20 balls. Sri Lanka, however, failed to capitalise in the latter half of the innings. Through Aguilleira’s guidance, the last five Windies wickets added 105 runs in 22.5 overs.
As well as Siriwardene bowled for figures of 10-0-33-1, none of the other bowlers kept up the pressure, perhaps taking the Windies tail a bit too lightly. The fielding, like against India, fumbled the deeper the innings progressed. There were easy two run-out chances that could have been executed with slightly more clarity in thinking. Kyshona and Daley capitalised with four fours, mostly off cross-batted shots in the vacant area on the leg-side. Daley’s straight six into the sightscreen off Ranaweera in the 43rd over certainly got the attention of the journalists watching England’s clash against Australia in Bristol on television in the media box.
The day started with Sripali Weerakkody, playing her last World Cup, providing the early breakthrough, like she had done against India. Haley Mathews, who made an attractive 26, misjudged the bounce and was leg before wicket on missing out on a pull shot in the eighth over. Stafanie Taylor played a cracking back foot drive before Weerakkody had her caught behind.
When Kycia Knight, who made 19 off 53 balls, and Dottin were trapped in front in the space of 2.5 overs, Sri Lanka’s spinners looked in control. But Aguilleira had other plans, and her influence extended to the field as well with three dismissals behind the stumps.
She combined with Taylor to send Hasini Perera back in the fifth over, and then stumped Athapaththu to open up the game. By then, Anisa had found a beautiful rhythm, giving the ball good loop and drawing the batters forward. There was a huge round of applause when her final figures of 10-0-39-3 were read out on the public address system. To top it up, Anisa effected a smart run out in the 37th over, scoring a direct hit from short mid-wicket.
With five consecutive defeats, Sri Lanka became the second team, after Pakistan, to be knocked out of the tournament. The Windies, theoretically, are still in the race for a semi-final berth, but it not only needs to win its last two games by big margins but also hope for other results to go its way.