A team of refugees has found a new home amongst the sports world’s elite.
|India prepare for what will be one of the most intriguing contests of the tournament against Afghanistan in St Lucia [AFP]|
West Indies thrashed Ireland by 70 runs as the hosts got their World Twenty20 campaign off to a winning start hours after New Zealand pulled off a dramatic two-wicket victory against Sri Lanka in the last over of the opening game.
But the eyes of the cricketing world will turn on Saturday to St Lucia, as Afghanistan take on powerhouse India on day two of a tournament that few ever expected the war-torn nation to compete in.
How the Afghans cope with the top cricket-playing sides will be an intriguing story in the Caribbean, after the competition was given a lively opening by the Kiwis and Sri Lankans.
A large Guyanese crowd witnessed a spectacular finish to the opener as Nathan McCullum won the game by hitting paceman Lasith Malinga for six over long off.
McCullum, named man of the match after also picking up one for 17 in his three overs with the ball and taking three catches in the deep, let out a loud yell as he struck the decisive blow.
New Zealand needed 20 off the last two overs, chasing Sri Lanka’s 135 for six on a slow track which included an outstanding innings from opener Mahela Jayawardene.
Jayawardene made 81 from 51 balls, with eight fours and two sixes, and was helped by 20-year-old Dinesh Chandimal’s 29.
The fun atmosphere at the Providence Stadium was in marked contrast to the flat mood for the World Cup three years ago and was helped by some lively dancing from Caribbean-style cheerleaders.
Jesse Ryder’s punchy 42 off 27 balls got New Zealand off to a decent start but some intelligent bowling and smart fielding from last year’s runners-up Sri Lanka kept things tight until, with three runs needed from the last two balls, McCullum struck.
“I guess 135 was a pretty good total and we knew how difficult Sri Lanka could be with their bowlers,” said New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori.
“It was easier for Nathan to hit at the end and his six was pretty amazing.”
The defeat leaves Sri Lanka needing victory in their second group game against Zimbabwe and skipper Kumar Sangakkara said it was important his batsmen improved.
“We fell about 10-12 runs short, Mahela batted well with Chandimal but we need to convert good starts into good totals and improve our fielding,” he said.
Qualifiers Ireland were bowled out for just 68, inside 17 overs, with man-of-the-match Darren Sammy taking three wickets for eight runs to add to the all-rounder’s top score of 30 in West Indies’ 138 for nine.
Ireland saw 17-year-old off-spinner George Dockrell take three for 16 after West Indies captain Dwayne Bravo, deputising for the injured Chris Gayle, won the toss and batted.
But their top order had no answer to fast bowler Ravi Rampaul, who sparked Ireland’s collapse with three for 17.
“I know Sammy is a clean hitter of the ball,” Bravo said.
“I always had faith in the lower order and knew once we got over 130 it would be difficult for Ireland.”
West Indies face England on Monday with Ireland up against the same opponents on Tuesday in the final Group D match.