Jayawardene does the star-turn

SANJAY RAJAN

AT 95 for six, chasing 221 for victory on a two-paced pitch, it did seem that the contest was as good as over for Sri Lanka.

But Mahela Jayawardene had other ideas. "I told Upul (Chandana) that we need to set targets in five-over blocks at four runs an over. We made sure we didn't lose our wickets either, and were cautious against Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan. I thought we were lucky to get a few runs off Harbhajan," the middle-order batsman said.

"We were also aware that India would have to bring on their half bowlers (fifth bowler) — Sehwag and Ganguly — at some point to fill in 10 overs, and we made sure that we got five an over off them. Eventually we got more, and realised we were ahead of plan, needing just 45 from the last 10 overs," said Jayawardene, who scored a magnificent undefeated 94. Ganguly and Sehwag together conceded 55 runs off nine overs, which amounts to a lot in a low-scoring match.

The unbeaten seventh-wicket stand of 126 in 133 deliveries between Jayawardene and Chandana (45) saw the host win the fourth match of the IndianOil Cup at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium on August 3 by four wickets and maintain its winning streak in the tri-series.

Jayawardene had failed in the first two matches. "It is not that I wasn't getting runs. I bat in the middle-order, and the team's line-up is such that I don't get many opportunities. For us the team interest comes first, and scoring 20s or 30s is sufficient as long as it helps win matches."

V.V. KRISHNAN

With the three seamers striking early and young Suresh Raina effecting the run-out of Marvan Atapattu, India gained early control over the contest. The visitor made further inroads when left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra had Russel Arnold leg-before and off-spinner Harbhajan forced Lokuhettige to edge behind.

India was looking for the final breakthrough, and Nehra was bowling beautifully. Dravid said, "We had knocked off six wickets, and I went for the killer-punch. Nehra had only two overs, and we went after the seventh wicket. It was a difficult decision to take: whether to hold Nehra back or go through with him. I thought he was bowling very well. I wasn't sure if he would have bowled in the same manner had he taken a break and come back. If we had got another wicket, we'd have been in the game."

Jayawardene felt Dravid's decision was right. "Rahul's idea was to get a wicket. A breakthrough would have seen India win. I think anyone in his place would have done the same," the Sri Lankan said.

Dravid agreed that the fifth bowler was an area of concern. "But then, we have not been scoring enough runs, making it imperative for us to play an extra batsman."

In stark contrast to India's fifth bowler syndrome was the performance of off-spinner Tillekeratne Dilshan, who donned the role in the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan (rested).

The all-rounder set off a collapse when he had V.V.S. Laxman (played-on). He went on to claim Dravid (leg-before) and followed it up with two astonishing caught and bowled efforts to dismiss M. Dhoni and Raina.

"Dilshan bowed really well, built a lot of pressure by varying his pace and bowling in the right places. He was brilliant," said Jayawardene.

Tillekeratne Dilshan ... as good as a regular bowler.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Dravid agreed that Dilshan's spell was the turning point. "Their half bowler got four wickets, so where do we go? Maybe we need to look at other options in this department. Raina is one. We need to get better in this area."

Earlier, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly provided India, which opted to bat, a 67-run start off 94 deliveries.

Sehwag, who was dismissed early in the first two encounters, concentrated on occupation of crease. The Najafgarh blaster had two early reprieves — both against paceman Ferveez Mahroof with Jayawardene at slip erring on both occasions — but the punchy opener did not allow it to affect his concentration.

Ganguly, returning to international cricket after serving a four-match ODI ban, was tentative at the start. Mahroof rapped the left-hander on his pads a couple of times.

Mediumpacer Pradeep Jayaprakashdaran, on debut, dismissed Sehwag when the latter dragged in an away-going delivery.

Laxman, playing in his first match of the tournament, took 12 deliveries to get off the mark. Earlier, he nearly edged paceman Dilhara Fernando behind. The run-rate steadily fell, but the idea was to retain wickets and give the charge in the end. Ganguly and Laxman put on 50 off 88 deliveries for the second wicket.

Ganguly's first confident stroke was the lofted drive off Jayaprakashdaran to the fence, which took his personal score to 23. He went on to notch his 60th half-century. En route, he became only the third batsman after Sachin Tendulkar (13,642) and Inzamam-ul-Haq (10,933) to achieve the 10,000-run mark in ODI cricket.

"It's a big milestone to be among the first three in the world and also the second Indian after the great Sachin Tendulkar to get there. Obviously, this would be satisfying for any cricketer," said the left-hander.

"It's been nine years, I think I still have some fuel left in the tank," added the former captain, who scored nearly 8,000 of those runs as an opener.

Kaif came up with a gutsy 34 and Irfan Pathan propped up the total with a forceful undefeated 36 as India finished with 220 for eight, a defendable score in these conditions. But it could well have been more.

Sourav Ganguly... reaching the 10,000-run mark.-V.V. KRISHNAN

As Dravid put it, "It is important for one of the regular batsmen to stay till the end. Like what Jayawardene did. The ones who have got their eye in need to carry on."

The scores

India: V. Sehwag b Jayaprakashdaran 32, S. Ganguly b Chandana 51, V. V. S. Laxman b Dilshan 22, M. Dhoni c&b Dilshan 20, R. Dravid lbw b Dilshan 0, M. Kaif c & b Mahroof 34, S. Raina c & b Dilshan 2, I. Pathan (not out) 36, Harbhajan (run out) 4, L. Balaji (not out) 1; Extras (b-1, lb-3, nb-3, w-11) 18. Total (for eight wkts, 50 overs) 220.

Fall of wickets: 1-67, 2-117, 3-127, 4-128, 5-157, 6-161, 7-194, 8-207.

Sri Lanka bowling: Mahroof 10-0-52-1, Lokuhettige 7-1-32-0, Jayaprakashdaran 7-1-38-1, Fernando 9-0-34-0, Dilshan 10-0-29-4, Chandana 7-0-31-1.

Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga c Dhoni b Pathan 4, M. Atapattu (run out) 29, K. Sangakkara lbw b Balaji 16, M. Jayawardene (not out) 94, T. Dilshan c Dhoni b Nehra 7, R. Arnold lbw b Nehra 4, D. Lokuhettige c Dhoni b Harbhajan 0, U. Chandana (not out) 45; Extras (b-4, lb-4, nb-2, w-12) 22. Total (for six wkts, 48 overs) 221.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-36, 3-78, 4-88, 5-94, 6-95.

India bowling: Pathan 10-0-38-1, Balaji 10-0-48-1, Nehra 10-1-23-2, Ganguly 5-0-30-0, Harbhajan 9-0-49-1, Sehwag 4-0-25-0.