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IND v SL match report


By Rahul Nair
July 20 2004

The first real contest of the Asia Cup. The Lankans had their little champion back in the ranks after the inevitable loss in the series Down Under. The Indian batting, which looked shaky against the UAE, had lost a critical link, with rumors of VVS Laxman having injured his knee in the nets. The weather forecast that always looms large over proceedings in the Emerald Isle only added to the grey clouds hanging over skipper Ganguly at Dambulla.

BHOGLE’S WISE WORDS


A while ago, Harsha Bhogle had written in his column that Indian selectors had blundered by including Parthiv Patel instead of a regular batsman such as Badani in the 14. So when Laxman got injured in the nets, his logical replacement was playing in Zimbabwe, and perhaps, in the English county circuit. As the skippers went to toss, we found out that young Parthiv Patel had replaced Venkata Sai Laxman in the Indian XI. For Sri Lanka, Jayasuriya was out with a side strain, bringing Saman Jayantha into the squad and Maharoof and Malinga switching places as well. Considering that this match was inconsequential to both teams’ progress, this was a good opportunity to gauge the teams’ respective bench strengths. In that respect, Sri Lanka ended up with higher points.

THE TOSS


Atapattu won the toss and elected to bat first. The cloud cover over Dambulla was pregnant with imminent rain. Pathan bowled a superb first over and Balaji bowled one delivery, after which the skies opened up, necessitating an hour’s break. The additional moisture and sweating under the covers had made the pitch livelier and the punters would have been excused for expecting a few early wickets under the circumstances. Balaji proceeded to bowl a rather erratic spell from one end, unable to get his outswinger going and having serious problems with finding a steady line. Pathan continued to bowl superbly, but without much luck, both openers regularly playing and missing but not getting the nick that seemed inevitable. Guanawardene and Jayantha hung on grimly with the scoring rate displaying more modesty than a Buddhist monk. But one over from Balaji gave momentum to the Lankan charge. He bowled three wide balls, one of which even went to the boundary. Ganguly promptly took him off and replaced him with Zaheer Khan, but the floodgates had opened and the early initiative had been wrested by Sri Lanka.

Pathan tried his best to tie the tourniquet, but the Indian fielding didn’t seem to have the right bandages for the cause. They missed at least four direct throws and off Zaheer’s first over, a very tough chance flew by a diving Sehwag. Balaji was brought back by Ganguly and he rewarded him with Jayantha’s wicket off one that held its line instead of coming in like his stock ball. But he was inexplicably taken off immediately and replaced with Kumble and Pathan made way at the other end for Zaheer Khan. As the evening wore on, the doughty Gunawardene, in his skipper's company, turned defense into attack, with Ganguly seemingly bereft of any innovation or nous. Zaheer seemed to be limping (or, more precisely, dragging his left leg) even during his approach to the wicket. The leap we shall not even consider, since it simply wasn’t there. Even so, he showed a lot of heart in bowling a very disciplined if rather ineffectual spell of 9 overs for 39 runs before going off for Harbhajan to come in and commit a couple of awful fielding lapses.

Kumble too bowled steady stuff, nothing too threatening, with the turn that he extracted against the UAE conspicuously missing. The next two wickets fell against the run of play. First Patel threw the ball smartly to the bowler to get rid of a struggling Gunawardene, which brought the supremely fluent Sangakkara to the crease. Next, Yuvraj produced a splendid bit of fielding to run the Lankan skipper out for a well-compiled half-ton. It was at this stage that Mahela Jayawardene joined forces with Sangakkara and stitched together a magnificent 116-run partnership that effectively took the wind out of the Indian sails. Both notched up fifties, with Sangakkara falling at the fag end to leave Lanka at a formidable total of 282, the highest-ever score at the Dambulla.

THE CHASE THAT NEVER WAS


Naturally, chasing down such a huge target meant India had to get off to a typical Sehwag flyer, with the rest consolidating on the punch at the top. So it was not without some amusement and more consternation that one saw Patel walk out to open the inning with Sachin Tendulkar. Patel couldn’t get the ball off the square, with both Vaas and Zoysa bowling a terrific line and an even more impeccable length. His inability to rotate the strike began to put pressure on Tendulkar, who even came down the track to talk to his young partner three times about taking a single and turning the strike over. In the fourth over, after a superbly struck flick for four, Tendulkar tried to hit Zoysa through the off side. He went too hard, the bat turned in his hand and the resulting air ball was gallantly pouched by a diving, tumbling and gleeful Jayantha. The big wicket perked up Zoysa, who greeted Sehwag with a couple of bouncers. Sehwag too didn’t seem to get really going and, soon, Zoysa put Patel out of his misery and possibly out of the playing XI when he got him edging to Sangakkara for a paltry 6 off 16 balls.

Ganguly came out to join Sehwag, and just like at the start of the Lankan inning, a wicket seemed inevitable. Maharoof replaced Vaas and continued the excellent work, bowling a testing line pitched at the perfect length. Sehwag had a couple of airy shots interspersed with shots of brutal power, but the difference here proved to be the fielding. Just as it seemed India were back on track with a healthy run rate, disaster struck. Maharoof pitched one wide of off that swung further away, and ricocheted off Sangakkara’s gloves to third man. Sehwag took off for what he thought was a comfortable two, and midway through the second seemed to realize he needed to do more than amble into the crease. The inspired Zoysa’s direct hit found him a couple of inches short of the crease and an innings of much promise was cut short. This is the second consecutive match Sehwag has got out in this fashion. The very next over, Zoysa banged one into Ganguly and his terribly off-balance pull shot was easily pouched by Muralitharan. India was 4 down with Murali having not even bowled a single ball.

The chase was effectively over for India right there, but Dravid played another beauty to keep Indian hopes alive, although Yuvraj seemed to be out of sorts, failing to find his touch and timing and, in the final analysis, the momentum which is the key in one-day matches. They put together a 133-run partnership, but had used up too many balls in the process for the remaining batsmen to make a realistic attempt at winning. Yuvraj tried one slog too many and skied a simple one to Sangakkara. He had made a useful 47 off 78 balls, but had given it away just when he should have accelerated or at least stayed put till the end. Dravid, Kaif and Pathan struck some lusty blows, including a slogged six over mid-wicket from the supreme technician Dravid which surprised even the Lankans.

Zaheer Khan limped along with Pathan to the end, and India finished 12 runs short. It was a disappointing performance with both ball and bat (save for the brilliance of Dravid), but the most disheartening aspect was the fielding effort and team tactics. The chase was so badly mismanaged, it was hard to tell if this was the same team that did so well in the World Cup and the months following. India will now face Bangladesh in their next match, while the Lankans take on Pakistan.

LAST WORDS


Why would one select a squad for a tournament without a SINGLE reserve batsman?

Why would one not hit the stumps in the heat of battle after practicing the same for months?

Why would a premiere fast bowler keep breaking down in the middle of match after match and not get his fitness issue addressed?

Why would one pick three seamers and the lone spinner (not one known for his ability to turn the ball) on a pitch that always assists spin?

Why would one throw a young keeper into the deep end of a chase, when logic dictated that an explosive start was of the order?

Why would one not send in a pinch-hitter when the asking rate began to climb up alarmingly?

Why would India still be considered favorites by the punters and the pundits?

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