Chinks sink India

Given its shoddy batting in the competition, India did not deserve to win the Micromax ODI tri-series. A triumph would have masked some of the serious issues facing the side. With the World Cup only months away, the defeat here might be a blessing in disguise, writes S. Dinakar.

The Indians have plenty of work before the World Cup. There are chinks in the side in all departments of the game. The team lacks depth and options.

Both, the Indian batting and bowling, are dependent on the conditions. While the batsmen might get runs on flat tracks, the indications are that the bowling may get exposed on such wickets. And in bowler-friendly conditions, the batting comes a cropper.

Virender Sehwag, rightly adjudged the Man of the Series, sizzled in the competition. The rest of the Indian line-up largely fizzled out. Barring skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's defiant half-century in the final, there was little else from the Indian batsmen.

On a pitch more suitable for batting in the summit clash, the Indian pacemen struggled. Only Munaf Patel operated with any measure of control, but then he has been considered a fringe cricketer by the team-management.

Actually, given its shoddy batting in the competition, India did not deserve to win the Micromax ODI tri-series. A triumph would have masked some of the serious issues facing the side. With the World Cup only months away, the defeat here might be a blessing in disguise.

The Indians were also let down by a negative approach at Dambulla. Picking an extra batsman for the title clash made little sense. As it turned out, the additional batsman, Rohit Sharma, made little difference.

It was baffling why the out-of-sorts Rohit was played in the final. While Ravindra Jadeja, neither making an impact with the ball nor the bat, deserved to be dropped, India should have picked the lanky off-spinner R. Ashwin. He bowls stump-to-stump, gets extra bounce from the surface and can beat the batsman with spin. Ashwin could have made a difference in the middle-overs, particularly against the left-handed Kumar Sangakkara, who came up with a vital 71. Yuvraj Singh's left-arm spin was tidy, but both century-maker Tillakaratne Dilshan and Sangakkara were never in danger of losing their wickets during a critical phase.

Occasional bowlers can, on occasions, perform a useful job in terms of checking the flow of runs, but they may also allow partnerships to build. Ashwin, no mug with the bat either, should have received a look-in.

India eventually stumbled on the chase. Pursuing a demanding 300, the side was dismissed for 225.

The variety in the Sri Lankan attack proved too much for the Indian batsmen. Lasith Malinga hustled the batsmen with his bounce and searing, swinging yorkers. The young Thisara Perera has grown in stature in the competition. He was zestful and probed the batsmen with his surprising nip off the pitch and two-way seam movement. Off-spinner Suraj Randiv's control, flight and turn both consumed and contained. The failure to build partnerships hurt India.

When a smooth-stroking Virender Sehwag's tenure was ended by Chamara Kapugedera's direct hit from point, the match was going to end only one way. Such has been India's dependence on Sehwag's batting in this competition.

Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina threatened briefly, but failed to build on starts. These batsmen showed little character.

Earlier, the Indian attack was wayward after Sangakkara elected to bat. There were as many as 12 wides. An equal number of leg-byes indicated that the pacemen simply did not bowl the right line.

Dilshan was certainly not complaining. A punishing batsman with bat-speed and hand-eye coordination, he cashed in on some ordinary bowling for his eighth ODI hundred. He used his feet to torment the bowlers, found the gaps and hit over the top. He does possess a lot of strokes. And he does not think twice before essaying them.

A valuable opening partnership of 121 in 20.2 overs provided an ideal platform for the host. Mahela Jayawardene's supporting 67-ball 39 was crucial. During his innings, Mahela became the third Sri Lankan — the illustrious Aravinda de Silva and Sanath Jayasuriya had achieved the feat earlier — to reach 9000 ODI runs.

Then Sangakkara batted with balance and poise for a wonderfully paced 71. Sri Lanka lost some momentum towards the end, but Chamara Silva's unbeaten 26 took the total to within a run of 300.

In the perform or perish league match against New Zealand, the Indian pace pack, led by Praveen Kumar, had blown away the Kiwis after a stroke-filled 93-ball 110 by Sehwag had rescued India from a disastrous 66 for four.

Then, chasing 224, New Zealand was bundled out for 118.

The turning point of the contest was the 107-run fifth-wicket partnership between the astonishing Sehwag and Dhoni (38). Then, the Indian pacemen shone under the lights on a new track.

A slippery bowler with a quick-arm action, Praveen was buzzing. He used his wrist to good effect. He moved the ball away, brought it in and also straightened the odd one. Praveen Kumar made inroads as the New Zealand batsmen were unable to read his snappy release. The other Indian pacemen bowled in the right areas as well.

Martin Guptill played for swing, but the delivery straightened. Key man Ross Taylor nicked a lovely outswinger and 'keeper Dhoni held a great diving catch. Scott Styris attempted a waft through the off-side and dragged the ball on to his stumps.

Despite a counter-attacking 35-ball 52 from Kyle Mills — he came up with some fierce flat-batted hits — there were no comebacks for the Kiwis.

Earlier, Sehwag rollicked to his 13th ODI hundred. The fluency with which he executed his strokes, even as wickets fell at the other end, underlined his exceptional ability. He struck the ball with balance and timing, pierced the gaps, innovated and created.

While Sehwag played beside the line to thump the ball between point and cover, he also moved across to the off-stump to whip the ball through the leg-side field.

However, faulty stroke selection led to two Indian collapses — at the beginning and at the end. India sorely misses a genuine bowling all-rounder at No. 7.

THE SCORES

Final, Sri Lanka v India, Aug. 28, Dambulla. Sri Lanka won by 74 runs.

Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene c Karthik b I. Sharma 39; T. Dilshan c I. Sharma b Praveen 110; U. Tharanga c Dhoni b Yuvraj 6; K. Sangakkara c R. Sharma b Munaf 71; C. Kapugedera c Karthik b Nehra 12; A. Mathews c R. Sharma b I. Sharma 1; C. Silva (not out) 26; T. Perera c Dhoni b Munaf 6; S. Randiv (run out) 4; N. Kulasekara (not out) 0; Extras (lb-12, w-12) 24. Total (for eight wkts., in 50 overs) 299.

Fall of wickets: 1-121, 2-132, 3-217, 4-242, 5-258, 6-261, 7-294, 8-298.

India bowling: Praveen 10-0-72-1; Munaf 9-1-43-2; Nehra 10-0-60-1; I. Sharma 8-0-54-2; Yuvraj 8-0-37-1; Sehwag 5-0-21-0.

India: V. Sehwag (run out) 28; D. Karthik c Sangakkara b Malinga 0; V. Kohli c Mathews b Perera 37; Yuvraj Singh c Sangakkara b Perera 26; M. Dhoni b Randiv 67; S. Raina c Dilshan b Randiv 29; R. Sharma st. Sangakkara b Randiv 5; Praveen Kumar b Malinga 14; I. Sharma b Perera 0; A. Nehra c Perera b Mathews 2; Munaf Patel (not out) 0; Extras (b-4, lb-1, w-8, nb-4) 17. Total (in 46.5 overs) 225.

Fall of wickets: 1-9, 2-38, 3-88, 4-109, 5-158, 6-177, 7-201, 8-210, 9-224.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 9-0-49-2; Kulasekara 9-0-47-0; Mathews 10-0-48-1; Perera 9-2-36-3; Randiv 9.5-1-40-3.

League phase: Aug 25: India 223 in 46.3 overs (V. Sehwag 110, M. Dhoni 38, T. Southee four for 49) bt New Zealand 118 in 30.1 overs (Praveen Kumar three for 34, Munaf Patel three for 21).