Island Cricket

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Old-fashioned Vandort proves his worth

The last time Michael Vandort was in Australia he briefly became a comedy figure for his performance in his only one-day international. Chasing Australia's 318 in Melbourne last year, Vandort opted for the type of crease occupation Sunil Gavaskar preferred in the inaugural World Cup and has not been picked in a limited-overs fixture since the sleep-inducing 48 off 117 balls. That style of play is as old-fashioned as Brylcreem but it is suited to Tests when crease occupation is the goal.

Sri Lanka started the fourth day searching for ways to deter Australia for six sessions and the Vandort method was perfect. In the morning 261 runs were needed to force the hosts to bat again and they chipped away 138 in an act of defiance that was promising until two wickets were lost in the late gloom. Helped most of the time by the rain, which interrupted regularly, Vandort gave the lower order something to build on as they try to engineer a final-day escape.

Vandort copied the on-field model presented by the opener Marvan Atapattu on Saturday when he deflected and defended. Runs were a bonus, but eating up time was of the essence. Vandort showed himself to be an unflustered and determined No. 3, which are useful qualities when filling a top-order spot against buoyant Australians. In the first innings he had followed an angled Brett Lee delivery and nicked to Adam Gilchrist, so he was particularly aware of not re-creating the dismissal. Leaving outside off stump pleased him and he was comfortable dropping his hands to the short balls and letting the trouble pass. When it was pitched up he leaned his tall frame forward and offered a defensive stroke or a push for a single or two if he was feeling more adventurous.

It was an admirable policy on a pitch that was slightly variable but missing any of the tremors from the first half of the game. Only when Stuart MacGill was bowling with close men intruding did Vandort really look to expand. The sweeps and heaves toward midwicket gained him some extra space and useful runs, but he remained thoughtful and refused to fall victim to the tinkering field until shortly before bad light ended play 28 overs prematurely.

This is Vandort's tenth Test in six years and at 27 he is at an age when he must perform when employed. Without Kumar Sangakkara's hamstring tear Vandort might have watched this game next to Lasith Malinga; instead he has justified the team view that he deserved a place even with the comebacks of Atapattu and Sanath Jayasuriya. Centuries against England and Bangladesh, when he came in for the injured Upul Tharanga, have come in six Tests for Vandort, and this was also an innings to treasure against an attack desperate to reaffirm its credentials after dismissing Sri Lanka for 211. And he was not that slow. A cover drive for two off MacGill brought up his half-century in 104 balls, which was much swifter than his one-day effort against the Australians. In the end the constant re-starting proved too difficult and he was bowled by a sharp MacGill legspinner from round the wicket. It was his 170th delivery and he had stayed for more than four hours.

Direction and application also came from the captain Mahela Jayawardene, who struggled in the warm-up games and was beaten by Stuart Clark early on the third morning. Jayawardene was more prepared to attack the fast-bowling lapses than Vandort and the 143 minutes he was a nuisance could be vital. However, Vandort stayed longer and achieved much more. He also proved to the Australians his batting should be treated seriously.

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