Flooring the opponent

Praveen Kumar could not have chosen a better time to contribute to the team’s cause. His blows put India in the CB tri-series finals and knocked the Lankans out, writes S. Dinakar.

Praveen Kumar flexed his muscles at the Bellerive Oval. He had learnt ‘kushti’ (wrestling) when he was young in Uttar Pradesh. Now, he had the Sri Lankans on the mat in a crunch game.

Pace bowling is a very different art from wrestling. There are some common factors though — aggression and a sense of timing.

The young paceman could not have chosen a better time to contribute to the team’s cause. His blows put India in the CB tri-series finals, knocked the Lankans out. Aggressive, he was.

A natural swing bowler, this was a day when he also hit the seam. His first spell that included three wickets virtually floored the Lankans.

Praveen is a ‘pehalvan’ who comprehends the nuances of bowling with a ball. He has strong shoulders and a powerful wrist. And he can get the ball to deviate.

“He is quicker than he looks,” said a beaming skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. “You expect the ball to be coming at around 120 kmph and he hits the bat much harder.”

Queried at how the speed guns here have shown him bowl at better speeds than in India, Praveen replied, “The speed guns in India show less.” The small-town lad was back to his naive self.

The Lankans would have different memories of him for sure — he was not naive with the ball.

India, chasing just 180, won with seven wickets and 106 deliveries to spare.

Dhoni won the toss and he rightly opted to field. There was some swing and seam-movement for the bowlers in the morning. A cloud cover encouraged the pacemen.

The skipper had another trump card in Ishant Sharma who bowled with pace, lift and control to scalp four. At the fag end of a tiring tour, he has retained his intensity.

The bowlers were also helped by some ordinary stroke-selection by the batsmen. When application was needed, the Lankans perished to forgettable strokes. On their part, the Indian bowlers hit the right areas and achieved some movement. They were helped by the Lankan indiscretion.

“We let ourselves down. We needed to show more character,” said Mahela Jayawardene. The Lankan captain added, “We have some talented young batsmen. We need to be patient with them.”

The Sri Lankans, after some useful runs from the lower order, got to 179. The sun was out in Hobart when the Indians chased. Dhoni’s men were hardly stretched by the target.

Robin Uthappa, promoted in the order after a decision to drop Virender Sehwag was taken, miscued a flick off Malinga and then Tendulkar and Gambhir assumed centre-stage.

Tendulklar sparkled. He was balanced and struck the ball into the unmanned areas with the precision of a master that he is. Any error in length or line from the pacemen was punished.

When Muttiah Muralitharan flighted, he danced down to strike doosras with the spin over covers. When the off-spin wizard erred just a shade in line, Tendulkar (63, 54b, 10x4) employed the sweep shot. The ball travelled from the sweet portion of Tendulkar’s willow.

“You need to be careful when you criticise someone with Tendulkar’s ability. He can come good any time,” said Dhoni.

The fluent Gambhir (63 not out, 89b, 5x4) displayed exemplary footwork, driving on either side, lofting or pulling. The Lankans ran out of ideas.

Earlier, the Lankan batsmen lost their way. Chamara Kapugedera (57, 86b, 4x4) batted well under pressure, rallying with the tail. But then, the earlier batsmen had contributed too little.

Praveen struck deadly blows. He does not gain much momentum in his run-up but uses his shoulder and wrist effectively. He also mixed his pace and hit the pitch to gain some seam movement and bounce.

When the influential Kumar Sangakkara gave him the charge, he shortened his length to prise out the influential left-hander. Soon, he had Jayawardene taken brilliantly at point by Rohit Sharma. He snared Chamara Silva with extra bounce. Dhoni held his 100th ODI catch.

It was a day for the Indian skipper and his men to celebrate. And the ‘pehelwan’ came good.

THE SCORES

CB Series, 11th match, India v Sri Lanka, Hobart, February 26. India won by seven wickets.

Sri Lanka: D. Perera b I. Sharma 8; S. Jayasuriya c Dhoni b Pathan 34; K. Sangakkara c Dhoni b Kumar 33; M. Jayawardene c R. Sharma b Kumar 3; C. Silva c Dhoni b Kumar 0; T. Dilshan lbw b I. Sharma 8; C. Kapugedera c & b Harbhajan 57; C. Vaas c Gambhir b I. Sharma 0; L. Malinga c Uthappa b I. Sharma 12; M. Muralitharan b Kumar 13; I. Amerasinghe (not out) 0; Extras (lb-5, w-6) 11. Total (in 47.1 overs) 179.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-72, 3-77, 4-81, 5-81, 6-93, 7-93, 8-139, 9-179.

India bowling: Patel 9-0-51-0; I. Sharma 10-0-41-4; Pathan 10-2-23-1; Kumar 10-2-31-4; Harbhajan 4.1-0-17-1; Yuvraj 4-0-11-0.

India: R. Uthappa c Amerasinghe b Malinga 11; S. Tendulkar c Silva b Muralitharan 63; G. Gambhir (not out) 63; Yuvraj Singh c Dilshan b Perera 36; R. Sharma (not out) 3; Extras (w-4) 4. Total (for three wkts., in 32.2 overs) 180.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-120, 3-171.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 6-0-29-0; Malinga 6-0-36-1; Amerasinghe 7-0-40-0; Muralitharan 8.2-0-54-1; Jayasuriya 1-0-4-0; Perera 4-0-17-1.