Abject surrender

Upul Tharanga played a crucial knock for Sri Lanka.-AP

India had the batting to score at a little over five runs an over on a Queen's Park Oval track that had settled nicely. But, as it has happened many times before, the Indians buckled under pressure in the crucial match against Sri Lanka. S. Ram Mahesh reports.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of India's defeat was that it had the match exactly as it would have wanted. After winning the toss, and being set a target of 255, India must have backed its batsmen.

All that had gone before the chase — all the thrust and parry during the Sri Lanka innings — was irrelevant. India simply had to bat well to win.

In Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni, surely India had the batting to score at a little over five runs an over on a Queen's Park Oval track that had settled nicely. But, India's batting has had a history of strife in pressure games — those fantastic chases in Pakistan notwithstanding. Coach Greg Chappell admitted pressure had played a part.

"I think Indian teams definitely play under more pressure than any of the other teams because of the weight of expectations back home," said Chappell. "It does have an effect, and I would say from the experience of the last few weeks, it definitely had its effect. Coming into the Bangladesh game, I thought the boys were a bit anxious at that stage, and the pressure built from there. That pressure had a bearing on what happened out there (against Sri Lanka)," he added.

After Robin Uthappa, Ganguly and Tendulkar left, Dravid and Sehwag put together the only real partnership of the innings. Sehwag looked in fine touch: he was the only Indian batsman who played Muttiah Muralitharan with any authority. He kept the off-break out, and dealt with the doosra from around the wicket to beat the three-man off-side field. But, he left guiding to first slip, and Sri Lanka knew it held the advantage.

Yuvraj Singh's run out settled matters. India needed a calming partnership that ate at the deficit. Dravid and Yuvraj have done it in the recent past. The left-hander had looked in fine touch despite starting against the spinners. But, a moment's misjudgement cost India dear.

"We have not batted to our potential," said Dravid. "Batting is our strength, we picked the best batting line-up for the conditions, the best batting line-up in India, and we just didn't fire. What was in our control, we didn't do well enough."

Dravid soldiered on; he had to call for a runner at one stage, but it isn't in him to give up the ghost. Muralitharan was magnificent — his mix of off-breaks and doosras from around the wicket was near unplayable, especially by batsmen who were disinclined to leave their crease.

Earlier, India's bowlers started well. Despite conceding 10 runs in the first over of the innings, Zaheer Khan with Ajit Agarkar, and Munaf Patel kept it tight. Ganguly and Tendulkar helped their captain by taking wickets, which Jayawardene said, "wasn't part of our plan".

Upul Tharanga held the innings together. Had he fallen, Sri Lanka might have folded early. But, he played a crucial role in extending the innings. His time at the crease ensured Chamara Silva and the lower-middle order could play with greater freedom.

In Tillakaratne Dilshan's busy, innovative presence, Chamara hustled runs. The pair put on 83 runs in 80 balls before Munaf and Zaheer dragged things back. Zaheer's cutter to dislodge Chamara was particularly skilful. Russel Arnold and Chaminda Vaas hit out for important late runs — 38 in the last 23 balls.

Jayawardene thought, however, that his side was a few runs short. None of India's batsmen could impose himself and force Jayawardene to back-pedal; none so much as forced a bowling change apart from Sehwag who caused Muralitharan to be taken off.

Dravid looked gutted after the match. "No one realises the enormity more than the players," he said. "I know you all feel bad and people back home will feel bad, but no one feels as bad as the players themselves.

"A lot of our dreams and hopes were based around this competition, the biggest one-day event."

Greg Chappell's assessment was brief. "Look, there is nothing more to be said than we didn't play well enough. The fact of the matter was we got the team India wanted and we didn't perform when the time came. I'm not sure right at this moment is the time to try and dissect it.

"We need to go away and look at it from a bit of distance that might give perspective. It's no point making comments at an emotional time."

THE SCORES

Group B: India v Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka won by 69 runs.

Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga lbw b Tendulkar 64; S. Jayasuriya c Agarkar b Zaheer 6; M. Jayawardene c Dhoni b Agarkar 7; K. Sangakkara c Patel b Ganguly 15; C. Silva c Dhoni b Zaheer 59; T. Dilshan c Dhoni b Patel 38; R. Arnold (not out) 19; C. Vaas (not out) 19; Extras (lb-11, w-14, nb-2) 27. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 254.

Fall of wkts: 1-33, 2-53, 3-92, 4-133, 5-216, 6-216.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-0-49-2; Agarkar 8-1-33-1; Patel 10-1-46-1; Harbhajan 10-0-53-0; Ganguly 4-0-22-1; Tendulkar 8-0-40-1.

India: R. Uthappa c & b Vaas 18; S. Ganguly c Muralitharan b Vaas 7; V. Sehwag c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 48; S. Tendulkar b Fernando 0; R. Dravid c Muralitharan b Jayasuriya 60; Yuvraj Singh (run out) 6; M. Dhoni lbw b Muralitharan 0; A. Agarkar c Arnold b Malinga 10; Harbhajan Singh (not out) 17; Zaheer Khan c Malinga b Muralitharan 1; M. Patel c Vaas b Dilshan 10; Extras (lb-1, w-7) 8. Total (in 43.3 overs) 185.

Fall of wkts: 1-25, 2-43, 3-44, 4-98, 5-112, 6-112, 7-136, 8-159, 9-161.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 8-1-39-2; Malinga 8-0-39-1; Fernando 6.2-0-32-1; Muralitharan 10-0-41-3; Jayasuriya 9-0-31-1; Dilshan 2.1-1-2-1.