India's jinx in finals

EVEN as India failed to achieve a reachable 229 for victory against Sri Lanka in the final of the Indian Oil-Asia Cup 2004 at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on the night of August 1, Sachin Tendulkar looked forlorn, watching the dismal finish from the players' enclosure in the Grand Stand.

SANJAY RAJAN

The victorious Sri Lankan team with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

EVEN as India failed to achieve a reachable 229 for victory against Sri Lanka in the final of the Indian Oil-Asia Cup 2004 at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo on the night of August 1, Sachin Tendulkar looked forlorn, watching the dismal finish from the players' enclosure in the Grand Stand.

The maestro from Mumbai, who top-scored with 74, was the last slender hope for an Indian victory. But his dismissal, at 140 for seven in the 40th over, resulted in what is now a familiar Indian script in a final — this one being the nation's 10th loss in 13 title clashes under Sourav Ganguly's reign. Sri Lanka won its third Asia Cup — all as host — in eight editions with a 25-run victory.

The NatWest Trophy 2002 is the Bengal cricketer's lone success, while India emerged joint-winner in the last Champions Trophy in Colombo and the Dhaka tri-series.

Distraught

Marvan Atapattu was named the Man of the Match for his robust 65. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN.-

Tendulkar resembles a child who has misplaced his favourite toy whenever he fails to take his team to victory. In fact, a post-match picture of 1999 is still fresh in one's memory: eyes swelled with tears as he watched the Indian tail fail to knock off the last few runs after he had carried the team to the doorstep of victory with a century in the Chennai Test against Pakistan. It was there that the talk of him not being a finisher began. The eighth Asia Cup is the latest. A lot of such accusations have been unfair.

Tendulkar's dismissal — bowled by off-spinner Tillekeratne Dilshan while trying to slog the bowler — was undoubtedly the clincher for the host. But then, the Master Blaster needed to be proactive — even belligerent — considering that he was running out of partners and the asking rate was rising on a pitch that was low and slow.

"India failed to get a partnership going on a difficult wicket and let the asking rate rocket. And there was no way it could have got six an over at the end. Our spinners bowled brilliantly," said the stylish Lankan wicketkeeper-bat Kumara Sangakkara.

Upul Chandana, the most successful Sri Lankan bowler, is being congratulated by team-mates for dismissing Mohd. Kaif. — Pic. REUTERS-

"You can't expect Tendulkar, who opens your batting, to finish the game. Logically, it has to be someone who bats in the middle-order. Tendulkar's batting style provides a great opportunity for India to win games. He hastens the scoring rate and should be allowed to go and do his job without any pressure. The finisher's role should go to somebody else," the left-hander added.

Yuvraj Singh and Md. Kaif — architects of the famous NatWest triumph — didn't display sufficient maturity and the Mumbai maestro was left without support.

India lost a couple of quick wickets and its fifty came only in the 16th over. And, that, according to Sri Lankan vice-captain Mahela Jayawardene, made all the difference. "Our pacers didn't allow Sachin (Tendulkar) or (Virender) Sehwag to cut loose, and India was 63 for three in the 20th over. It had to get 166 in 30 overs against out spinners, which wasn't going to be easy if our boys bowled well.

"We also got wickets at important junctures, especially guys like Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman, who could anchor an innings to success. I must say that the first 15 overs did the trick. Otherwise our spinners would have found it difficult."

Laxman did not get to bat long enough in the tournament, having missed the two earlier contests against Sri Lanka and the match against Pakistan, owing to injury. He had short stints in the middle in the other two matches.

The match virtually ended here for India, when Sachin Tendulkar was bowled by Tillekeratne Dilshan. — Pic. AFP-

In short, he wasn't in touch, which a rhythm player like him needs to be in. Logically, he should have walked in at No. 3 instead of Ganguly, for the Hyderabad batsman likes the ball to come on to him. Instead, he trotted in at 26 for two, with the side under pressure, and soon enough had to encounter wizard off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and left-arm spinner Sanath Jayasuriya, who were exploiting the conditions. Cricket is more of a mental game in such situations. And it must be said that the Indian batting order, which boasts of the world's best top-six in Test cricket, doesn't wear a settled look in the shorter version.

Marvan Atapattu won the toss. But the packed stadium was stunned into silence when left-arm seamer Irfan Pathan had lefthander Jayasuriya — the man whom India feared the most — leg-before in the seventh over of the innings, the delivery coming into the batsman, rapping him a trifle high on the pad though. The burly left-hander, Avishka Gunawardene, followed quickly. India certainly couldn't have asked for a better start.

The four-time champion fielded three left-arm seamers. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was the lone specialist tweaker. Only the Sardar completed a full quota of 10 along with part-timers, offie Sehwag and leggie Tendulkar.

The 116-run third-wicket stand off 150 deliveries between the positive and powerful Atapattu (65) and the dominant Sangakkara (53) steadied the rocking boat. Harbhajan, introduced in the 14th over, bowled a stingy seven-over first spell while Sehwag and Tendulkar displayed good control.

That India is a not confident side while chasing is one thing, but this was the mother of all botch-ups. Credit, however, must be given to the home side, which maintained a steady pressure, suffocating the visitor with a combination of accurate bowling and superb fielding.

Brilliant catch

Sanath Jayasuriya, the Man of the Series. — Pic. AP-

Jayawardene brought off a brilliant low catch, diving to his left at lone slip when the well-built left-armer Nuwan Zoysa forced the Indian captain, Ganguly, to square up and edge. Earlier, the experienced left-armer Chaminda Vaas had opener Sehwag plumb in front. Laxman was caught by Dilshan at short-cover while trying to make room and drive left-arm spinner Jayasuriya, while Dravid was snapped up by Dilshan brilliantly at slip when the batsman powered a cut. At 96 for four in the 27th over, the Indian party was heading for an early end.

Atapattu was declared the Man of the Final and Jayasuriya, who rediscovered himself in the competition, the Man of the Series.

The scores:

Sri Lanka: A. Gunawardene c Ganguly b Nehra 8, S. Jayasuriya lbw b Pathan 15, M. Atapattu (run out) 65, K. Sangakkara b Sehwag 53, M. Jayawardene c Yuvraj b Tendulkar 0, T. Dilshan st. Dravid b Tendulkar 22, U. Chandana lbw b Harbhajan 8, F. Maharoof (run out) 9, C. Vaas c Yuvraj b Pathan 6, N. Zoysa (not out) 6, M. Muralitharan (not out) 4; Extras (b-4, lb-14, w-11, nb-3) 32. Total (for nine wkts., 50 overs) 228.

Fall of wickets: 1-28, 2-31, 3-147, 4-150, 5-174, 6-194, 7-202, 8-213, 9-219.

India bowling: Pathan 7-0-33-2, Nehra 6-0-22-1, Zaheer Khan 7-0-35-0, Harbhajan 10-0-48-1, Sehwag 10-2-32-1, Tendulkar 10-0-40-2.

India: V. Sehwag lbw b Vaas 5, S. Tendulkar b Dilshan 74, S. Ganguly c Jayawardene b Zoysa 4, V.V.S. Laxman c Dilshan b Jayasuriya 12, R. Dravid c Dilshan b Chandana 16, Yuvraj Singh b Chandana 8, Md. Kaif c Jayawardene b Chandana 5, I. Pathan (run out) 2, Harbhajan Singh st. Sangakkara b Jayasuriya 16, Zaheer Khan (not out) 28, A. Nehra (not out) 8; Extras (b-12, lb-8, w-3, nb-2) 25. Total (for nine wkts., 50 overs) 203.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-26, 3-62, 4-96, 5-119, 6-135, 7-140, 8-147, 9-193.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 7-1-24-1, Zoysa 8-2-18-1, Maharoof 2-0-16-0, Muralitharan 9-0-46-0, Jayasuriya 10-0-34-2, Chandana 10-0-33-3, Dilshan 4-0-12-1.

* * * India moves one place up in ICC ODI table

A runner-up finish in the recent Asia Cup cricket tournament has lifted India to number five position above Pakistan in the International Cricket Council ODI championship table.

India, starting the tournament at sixth place, got one point from the tournament to finish with 106 points, as per the latest ratings released by the ICC.

ICC ODI Championship table 1. Australia (137) 2. New Zealand (117) 3. Sri Lanka (116) 4. South Africa (110) 5. India (106) 6. Pakistan (104) 7. West Indies (101) 8. England (99) 9. Zimbabwe (61) 10. Kenya (28) 11. Bangladesh (0)