Leicestershire and Ruhunu jostled, pulled, tugged, stepped on each other's toes to try to make it to the train first, but both might have just missed it. Both teams came in looking for their first win, hoping to make it big enough to spoil the party for Kolkata Knight Riders and Somerset, who won their first games and were due to face each other later in the evening. Leicestershire needed to chase down 161 in 13.2 overs to ensure automatic qualification, Ruhunu needed to keep them down to 140. As it turned out, led by Abdul Razzaq, one of the cleanest straight hitters of our time, Leicestershire threatened the improbable automatic qualification, but the Ruhunu spinners kept pulling them back. Razzaq perished in one final push for the run-rate boost, and the spinners then choked the lower order to fashion a dramatic win, allowing only 28 runs in the last six overs.
Leicestershire were knocked out, but Ruhunu now have two points, level with Kolkata and Somerset, their net run-rate of -0.28 sandwiched between Kolkata's 0.1 and Somerset's 0.05. With only two teams out of the four to go through to the qualification round, Leicestershire were expected to stay back and watch in hope that the final qualifier was one-sided enough to push one of the sides' net run-rate down.
Amid all this number-crunching, it was easy to overlook important good innings on a slow track. Before Razzaq's smashing 68 off 46 came Dinesh Chandimal's fighting 62 off 51 to help Ruhunu recover from 17 for 2 and 67 for 4. Recalled today to represent Sri Lanka in Tests against Pakistan, Chandimal found himself in early with Harry Gurney's slower balls causing a big dent with the wickets of Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Udawatte.
Chandimal batted intelligently, not taking many risks, hitting the big ones mainly down the ground, adding 44 and 41 with Milinda Siriwardana and Shalika Karunanayake. The stand with Siriwardana helped them recover after they had lost the first four inside 10 overs, the one with Karunanayake provided Ruhunu the final thrust. Karunanayake scored 28 off those 41, off just 15 balls. Forty-seven came off those last four overs, and Ruhunu had elbowed just past Leicestershire with the train approaching.
Razzaq had played an important role in keeping Ruhunu down early on. The second wicket he took was his 100th in Twenty20s. While he played the support role with the ball, he knew he would have to do it all off his own bat. He countered the slowness of the track by simply refusing to play square. Sixty-one of his runs came in front of square, 32 down the ground. With his grip high on the bat, he just stood and waited to hit down the ground through the leverage of the long handle. Once he left the crease to smash Jayasuriya into the second tier behind long-on.
Ruhunu, though, kept cutting off Razzaq'a support. Arosh Janoda got Joshua Cobb for 15 off 6 and Asanka Silva took out Andrew McDonald, captain in the injured Matthew Hoggard's absence, for 24 off 15. When Will Jefferson got a rough lbw call to make it 81 for 3 in 9.1 overs, it was clear 13.2 overs would come and go. They came and went. Razzaq, though, wanted as big a run-rate gain as possible, and started trying to hit six off every delivery from the 12th over onwards. Thirty-three came in three overs, but Razzaq finally holed out after escaping two drops.
With 33 required off 36, Leicestershire lost the plot for a bit. Paul Nixon and Wayne White fell playing big shots in the next two overs, and suddenly Ruhunu were the favourites to win. The tail could only manage singles as the noose got tighter and tighter. Then again they played out the 20 overs, reducing the margin to just four runs, which left Ruhunu with a minimum run-rate boost.