The runs that the tail makes are always decisive. From forming a rear guard to eke out a draw to frustrating the bowlers after they having done all the hard work to run through the top order, tail end batsmen’s batting can make the difference in a tightly contested game.
Although most tail enders are see-the-ball-close-the-eyes sloggers of the ball, there are dogged tail end batsmen who are harder to dismiss than the top order batsmen. Cleaning up the tail is a tough art not without a reason.
This article dwells on five miracle innings played by Sri Lankan tail-end batsman which helped their team win. Even though batsmen like Chaminda Vaas, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Upul Chandana and Sachithra Senanayake have played pivotal innings in the tail order, only those that were played by batsmen of little repute have been considered for this article.
#1 Ajantha Mendis 21* vs. West Indies in 2015
In the first match of the three-match ODI series vs. the West Indies in 2015, the visiting West Indians mustered 159 runs in 26 overs in a rain-curtailed game. Needing 163 runs for a win, Dilshan got Sri Lanka off to a high-flown start leaving his team only 59 runs to get off 79 balls with seven wickets in hand when he got out. However, Sunil Narine picked up three wickets in the 19th over to leave Sri Lanka seven down with 30 runs still required. Ajantha Mendis walked in at number eight and saw off Narine’s only remaining over successfully. Then he along with Senanayake got Sri Lanka within touching distance of victory, but Jonathan Carter removed both Senanayake and Malinga off successive balls to leave Sri Lanka nine down with 11 runs to get. Mendis taking strike against Jhonson Charles brought the equation down to eight runs off eight balls. Mendis took two runs off the following ball and that being a no ball meant that Sri Lanka needed five runs off eight balls. Mendis would hoick the free-hit ball over wide long-on to hand Sri Lanka a thrilling win.
#2 Rangana Herath 48 vs. England in 2014
In the second Test in the two-match Test series, the first of which was drawn, against England, Sri Lanka managed a middling 257 in the first innings. In response, England posted 365 runs. With a deficit of 108 runs, Sri Lanka found themselves seven down for 277 runs leading by a meager 169 runs. Joining Mathews, who was batting on 65, Herath swindled 149 runs for the eighth wicket, setting England a target of 350 runs. Battling out in the middle for 162 minutes, Herath faced 82 balls for his 48 runs. It would a take an ill-advised call for a run from Mathews to dismiss the left arm spinner. Chasing 350, England would take the game right to the penultimate ball of the match, off which Eranga picked up England’s last wicket to help Sri Lanka win its first Test series in England.
#3 Muttiah Muralitharan 33* vs. Bangladesh in 2009
Sri Lanka locked horns with Bangladesh in the final of the tri-series, which also involved Zimbabwe, in Dhaka in 2009. On a seamer-friendly pitch, Sri Lanka’s fast bowlers ransacked Bangladesh’s top order, truncating the home team to a skimpy 152. Chasing 153 for a win, Sri Lanka’s top-order commenced a convoy towards the pavilion as the scoreboard read 6 runs for 5 wickets. Sangakkara, then, set in motion a partnership with Mubarak to rescue Sri Lanka from the doldrums, but regular wickets whittled Sri Lanka to 114 for the loss of eight wickets. With Maharoof batting at one end, Muttiah Muralitharan came to the crease with 39 required off 39 balls and only two wickets remaining. Facing Shakib Ul-Hasan, who had picked up two wickets in that over, Murali played three solid defenses to see off the southpaw’s ninth over. Sri Lanka was forced to take the batting power play in the 45th over and Murali utilized the fielding restriction to launch Rubel Hossain for three fours before capping off his over with a six straight down the ground. The avalanche of boundaries swung the momentum significantly towards Sri Lanka. Only two runs came off the following over from Shakib and Sri Lanka needed 13 off 18 balls to win the final. Bangladesh gambled by giving Rubel another over and a rampaging Murali exploited the opportunity to seal the game for Sri Lanka with a six and a four. Murali ended up scoring 33 runs off 16 balls at a strike-rate of 206.25 to take Sri Lanka from 114 for 8 to an improbable win.
#4 Lasith Malinga 56 vs. Australia in 2010
Sri Lanka was hoping to win their first ever series win in any format in Australia when they embarked on a tour to the antipode in 2010 under Kumar Sangakkara. In the first ODI of the three-match ODI series in Melbourne, Sri Lanka was well on track to accomplish their goal when they had Australia four down for 88. But Mike Hussey, the perennial tormentor of Sri Lanka, along with Australia’s middle order lifted Australia to some amount of respectability. Chasing a middling score of 240 for a win, Sri Lanka lost their first eight wickets for just 107 runs. Needing 133 more runs to win, a herculean task, by all means, Lasith Malinga joined hands with Angelo Mathews for the ninth wicket. The veteran Sri Lankan fast bowler, seeing “no point in hanging around”, began to attack the Australian bowlers, targeting the arc between long on and mid-wicket. No bowler was spared as bowlers as diverse as Peter Siddle, John Hastings and Xavier Doherty were spanked out of the ground with complete disdain by Malinga. Mathews, on the other hand, took on Mitchell Johnson and hooked, pulled and drove him all around the park, with the best of his shots being an inside-out lofted drive over long-off for a six. The pair added 132 runs for the ninth wicket in 18.2 overs. But, as fate may have it, Malinga would be run out when Sri Lanka needed only one more run for a win. An already thrilling encounter was made even more thrilling as Muralitharan was forced to take strike. Murali, however, nonchalantly flicked Watson over fine-leg for a four. Malinga ended up scoring 56 runs off 48 balls at a strike rate of 116.66. No Sri Lankan win has ever been more histrionic.
#5 Thilan Thushara 54* vs. India in 2008
In the 5th ODI of the five-match ODI series between India and Sri Lanka in 2008, which would be the first of what would soon become an ad nauseum of India-Sri Lanka ODI series encounters, Sri Lanka won the all-important toss in Premadasa Stadium and chose to bat first. Having already lost the series, Sri Lanka rested both Murali and Vaas and used the dead rubber as an opportunity to groom youngsters. Though Malinda Warnapura and Mahela Udawatte got Sri Lanka off to a decent start, a middle order collapse stalled Sri Lanka’s innings. From being 78 for 2, Sri Lanka collapsed to 133 for 6. Needing, at least, a score close to 200 to have any chance of getting close to a win, Thilan Thushara was promoted ahead of Nuwan Kulasekara to number 8. The Sri Lankan left-arm fast bowler in cahoots with Jehan Mubarak launched a rescue effort to inject some stability into the Sri Lankan side. The pair would go on to add 94 for the 7th wicket at 7.23 per over and would take Sri Lanka to a formidable total of 227. Thushara scored 54 off 46 balls, which is his highest score in ODIs till date. Sri Lanka would go onto win the match by 112 runs through the D/L method.