India comes a cropper

Sri Lankan captain Tillakaratne Dilshan celebrates after beating Zimbabwe in the final of the Micromax trophy.-AP

No one expected India to lose twice to Zimbabwe, but once that happened there was no comeback for the Suresh Raina-led new-look side. Sri Lanka took the title, beating Zimbabwe in the final.

Zimbabwe was expected to be the gracious host while flipping over and suffering losses true to its status as a minnow. But sport is about hope and puncturing stereotypes. And in the Tri-Series played at Harare and Bulawayo from May 28 to June 9, the Zimbabweans, led by Elton Chigumbura, unfettered by expectations and playing with refreshing freedom, almost scripted a fairy-tale finish before the form book and class proved to be natural impediments.

In the final, Tillakaratne Dilshan, back on the road to runs, guided the Sri Lankans to an emphatic title triumph with an unbeaten 108 (102b, 14x4). The men from the Emerald Isle defeated the Zimbabweans by nine wickets while chasing 199 as Dilshan and Upul Tharanga (72) set a frenetic pace and the winning runs were clipped in 34.4 overs.

Through the tournament, Zimbabwe thrived through its openers Brendan Taylor (295 runs) and Hamilton Masakadza (181) while off-spinner Prosper Utseya and seamer Christopher Mpofu chipped in with a few crucial wickets. Before the slump in the final and in between the giant-slaying acts against India, Zimbabwe also suffered a nine-wicket defeat against Sri Lanka that forced coach A. Butcher to remark: “Frankly today we were rubbish.”

Overall though, the African nation can take heart from its performance in the tournament. The Sri Lankans meanwhile showed enough resilience despite missing the quartet of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Sanath Jayasuriya and Muttiah Muralitharan.

Sri Lanka lost two matches, one against India and another against Zimbabwe, and yet managed to stay afloat and emerge champion with its top-order of Dilshan (328 runs) and Tharanga (209) often setting a solid platform while its bowlers had their moments through Dilhara Fernando (5 wickets), off-spinner Suraj Randiv (6) and seamer Nuwan Kulasekara.

The Indians, strangely, were left licking their wounds inflicted twice by the Zimbabweans. Earlier, a new-look Indian team riding on youth and promise had flown to Zimbabwe, while the established clutch of M. S. Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar stayed back as some nursed injuries and some were rested by the selectors.

Suresh Raina, marked for greater glory by Wisden some years back, shepherded the team and though the squad's overall experience was a touch sketchy, the Indians were still expected to put it past Zimbabwe and book a place in the final against the Sri Lankans.

The start, though, was a shocker as in the inaugural match, Raina's men tumbled to a six-wicket defeat against the host despite posting 285 for five with Rohit Sharma's 114 (119b, 6x4, 4x4) lending hope. The Zimbabweans sauntered past the target with Taylor's 81 and debutant Craig Ervine's 67 easing the path. The aggressive tone was set by Taylor along with his opening partner Masakadza (46), while the raw Indian pace trio of Ashok Dinda, Vinay Kumar and Umesh Yadav struggled for rhythm. Vinay did bag two wickets, but eventually bowed out of the tournament with an injury.

Subsequently, India did pull one back with a seven-wicket victory against Sri Lanka, with Rohit's second successive hundred (101 not out, 100b, 6x4, 2x6) being the cornerstone, but the warning signs of decay were evident and the meltdown continued with defeats against Zimbawe and Sri Lanka in the next two matches. Zimbabwe won by seven wickets with a bonus point to boot, while Sri Lanka registered a six-wicket victory thanks to Dinesh Chandimal's 111.

The Indians had tumbled out of yet another multi-team event much to the chagrin of the broadcaster and advertisers. More importantly, the young Indian batsmen were expected to perform well and challenge the established stars in the run-up to the ICC World Cup next year. But, sadly, it never happened though Rohit's two tons and Virat Kohli's 82 in the lone victory against the Sri Lankans, offered some succour.

The opening combine of Dinesh Karthik and Murali Vijay flattered to deceive while stringing alliances of 56, 28 and 58 and when Naman Ojha replaced Vijay, he scored a solitary run. The middle order too remained tremulous as Raina scored just 100 from four outings and Yusuf Pathan 70 from four innings. Yusuf, especially, failed to replicate his T20 heroics from the Indian Premier League.

All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja scored 131 and also bagged five wickets, but in a team that struggled with batting rust and bowling lethargy, his effort was inadequate. Seamers Dinda, Yadav and Vinay, between them, had a haul of just six wickets and that was hardly enough when they were expected to soften and strike the rival batsmen. The spinners too failed to take wing with even the experienced Amit Mishra scalping only one wicket.

The expected success of the young turks failed to materialise and that will be a cause for concern for selection committee chairman K. Srikkanth. “We haven't looked good throughout the tournament and I am not happy at all,” admitted a weary Raina. There is no denying the talent of the young batsmen, but with whispers of a frailty against short-pitched bowling doing the rounds and consistency remaining elusive, Raina and Co. need to pull up their socks while displaying broader bats. The bowlers too need to find their radar in a season that will culminate in the World Cup being held in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in February 2011.

The scores (final): Zimbabwe 199 in 49 overs (T. Taibu 71 not out, D. Fernando three for 36) lost to Sri Lanka 203 for one in 34.4 overs (T. Dilshan 108 not out, U. Tharanga 72).