Lanka wins a cliff-hanger

Kumara Sangakkara won the Man of the Match award for his well made 110.-PTI

Granted, the Sri Lankans fielded outstandingly. But India choked, having neglected to ease the collar occasionally, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

It's exceedingly rare that Mahendra Dhoni should approach a fifty without having spanked a four in all that time. When that happened in Rajkot earlier this week, in the second one-dayer of the Hero Honda Cup, it proved disastrous for India. From a position of relative strength, India crashed to a five-run defeat.

Ironically, Dhoni was undone by his desire to cut out the flash and play responsibly for the team's cause. Having been bowled off a no-ball first up, the Jharkhand lad was clearly determined to use that let-off and complete things for India.

But the Sri Lankans, having bowled patiently at Sachin Tendulkar, now started tightening the knot, making it progressively harder for the Indians to score at more than four an over. In fact, only one boundary was scored in the last 10 overs — that too in the last over which was bowled by the wily Sanath Jayasuriya, when 11 runs were required.

Granted, the Sri Lankans fielded outstandingly. But India choked, having neglected to ease the collar occasionally. No batsman could hold the innings together for India, which went on to lose the match despite only needing to chase down 258 on a hard batting wicket that was expected to produce scores well in excess of 300.

Sachin Tendulkar played a delightful cameo of 54 and put on a partnership of exactly 100 with Sourav Ganguly — whose score ticked away without drawing attention to itself — and calmed early nerves, after Robin Uthappa and Dravid fell early. Tendulkar was particularly severe on Lasith Malinga, whose pace was utilised to force several boundaries square of the wicket; twice the bowler was slapped away for consecutive fours.

The run rate was pegged back after the Lankans opted to stagger the application of the third and final Power Play. This disrupted the Indians' momentum, and a quiet period followed. Tendulkar in fact didn't score another boundary after the 13th over.

The out of form captain, Mahela Jayawardene, timed his bowling changes perfectly. Tendulkar, his footwork compromised, was dismissed immediately after Ganguly reached his fifty, stumped while half stepping out. Soon afterward, in the second over of his third spell, Malinga finally struck with reverse swing, inviting Ganguly into a questioning prod outside off-stump.

Malinga's awkward slingshot deliveries might have been even harder to deal with in the morning when there was some spring to be extracted from the wicket, even off good length.

Virender Sehwag's prolonged slump in form, coupled with the injury to Yuvraj Singh, is going to cause a few jitters for the middle order in the World Cup. Sehwag got out to a bad stroke, it would appear, almost out of habit.

Karthik joined Dhoni with a little less than a hundred to get. To begin with, they were content to scurry through for quick singles and spade out yorkers. But when the asking rate started to creep up, they had to try and get the ball away a bit more; and although they were quick, the Sri Lankan fielding denied the Indians several runs.

Earlier, Kumara Sangakkara crafted a nicely paced 110 — his sixth limited overs hundred — and inspired the Sri Lankan resurgence after the visitor had lost four wickets for 58. Munaf Patel, bowling the nagging line that had brought him success in the abandoned match in Kolkata, split the first four wickets with a much-improved Sreesanth.

Jayasuriya square-cut Patel for a six but the bowler remained undaunted, adjusted his line and had the left-handed opener caught behind two balls later. Sreesanth was expensive to begin with, but unlike in some earlier matches, settled into a nice rhythm. He had Upul Tharanga and Jayawardene fishing at similar deliveries that were fuller in length and derived a little extra bounce from the green coating. Jayawardene's edge rebounded off Ganguly's shoulder but was pouched by the alert Dhoni.

The Indians were a pacer short; Zaheer's shoulder was sore and with the World Cup around the corner, there was little sense in playing him.

Sangakkara came in at 31 for two and set about rebuilding the Lankan innings in the company of Tillekeratne Dilshan, who eschewed his early aggression and rotated strike well before being deceived by a Harbhajan doosra. Sangakkara played some spectacular strokes on the up early on; he finished with four sixes over the midwicket fence.

Rain ruined a perfectly set up game at Eden Gardens, Sanath Jayasuriya having decimated the bowling attack on his way to an unbeaten 63 in the first one-dayer of the Hero Honda Cup.

This was Jayasuriya at his belligerent best; it was almost as if the clock had turned back a decade, to the time the Sri Lankan was declared man of the tournament at the 1996 World Cup.

The dismantling appeared almost detached. The 37-year-old cut, pulled and drove effortlessly, in machine-like fashion, and was poised to get a ton when the rain began to come down heavily. These were unseasonal showers whose ferocity took locals by surprise, and although the ground staff worked hard, the outfield did not dry quickly. Not that either captain was keen to get on the field.

By Jayasuriya's frenzied standards, this knock wasn't extraordinary, not quite a performance to rouse the mummy out of its case at the Indian Museum, near the stadium. His career batting strike rate is over 90, and this knock came at just over a run a ball. He is at ease with short-pitched bowling — perhaps, to be more specific, most comfortable with short-pitched Indian bowling — and his best strokes are carved square of the wicket by making efficient use of the bottom hand, with those pliant wrists generating tremendous bat speed.

Thirteen boundaries were hammered, yet the risks Jayasuriya took were minimal. The Indians couldn't convert the couple of half-chances that he gave — first a slash that evaded wicketkeeper Dhoni's full-stretched clutch, and subsequently the opportunity for a run-out at the non-striker's end when Jayasuriya shielded the stumps with his body. Three Lankan wickets fell, but these were against the run of play and owed more to poor shot selection than to great bowling. Munaf Patel was the only bowler to make a serious impression in this game, and encouragingly for the Indians, he seemed fit and capable of consistently producing the sort of length that would cramp the likes of Jayasuriya.

Judging from the murderously tranquil mood Jayasuriya has been in since the tour of New Zealand, he could well emerge as his side's talisman in another World Cup.

THE SCORES

Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground, Rajkot, February 11. Sri Lanka won by five runs.

Sri Lanka: W. U. Tharanga c Tendulkar b Sreesanth 11; S. T. Jayasuriya c Dhoni b Patel 9; M. S. Atapattu lbw b Patel 15; K. C. Sangakkara c Sehwag b Patel 110; M. Jayawardene c Dhoni b Sreesanth 4; T. M. Dilshan b Harbhajan Singh 56; R. P. Arnold lbw b Tendulkar 7; M. F. Maharoof c Karthik b Patel 17; C. M. Bandara (not out) 3; N. Kulasekara (not out) 4; Extras (lb 14, w 4, nb 3) 21; Total (for eight wkts in 50 overs) 257.

Fall of wickets: 1-16, 2-31, 3-53, 4-58, 5-166, 6-188, 7-249, 8-249.

India bowling: Patel 9-0-49-4; Sreesanth 10-1-39-2; Ganguly 2-0-14-0; Harbhajan Singh 10-0-41-1; Kumble 10-1-59-0; Tendulkar 9-0-41-1.

India: A. R. Uthappa c Jayawardene b Maharoof 7; S. C. Ganguly c Sangakkara b Malinga 62; R. Dravid b Maharoof 5; S. R. Tendulkar st. Sangakkara b Bandara 54; V. Sehwag c Sangakkara b Bandara 19; M. S. Dhoni c Maharoof b Jayasuriya 48; K. D. Karthik lbw b Malinga 31; Harbhajan Singh c Jayawardene b Maharoof 2; A. Kumble (run out) 2; S. Sreesanth (not out) 0; M. M. Patel (not out) 0; Extras (b 1, lb 5, w 9, nb 7) 22; Total (for nine wkts in 50 overs) 252.

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-29, 3-129, 4-154, 5-169, 6-235, 7-241, 8-248, 9-252.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 10-0-75-2; Maharoof 10-0-42-3; Kulasekara 10-0-48-0; Bandara 10-0-36-2; Jayasuriya 9-0-38-1; Dilshan 1-0-7-0.

Eden Gardens, Kolkata, February 8. No result.

Sri Lanka: W. U. Tharanga b Patel 14; S. T. Jayasuriya (not out) 63; M. Jayawardene c Dravid b Patel 0; K. C. Sangakkara c Dhoni b Sreesanth 12; M. S. Atapattu (not out) 5; Extras (lb 2, w 6) 8; Total (for three wkts. in 18.2 overs) 102.

Fall of wickets: 1-34, 2-44, 3-96.

India bowling: Khan 5-0-32-0; Patel 7-1-25-2; Sreesanth 4.2-0-36-1; Harbhajan Singh 2-0-7-0.

INDIAN TEAM FOR WORLD CUP

Virender Sehwag was included in the 15-member Indian team for the World Cup to be held in the Caribbean Islands in March-April.

The squad: Rahul Dravid (captain) Sachin Tendulkar (vice-captain) Virender Sehwag Sourav Ganguly Robin Uthappa Yuvraj Singh Dinesh Karthik Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk) Harbhajan Singh Anil Kumble Zaheer Khan Ajit Agarkar Munaf Patel Irfan Pathan Sreesanth