Nothing succeeds like success

S. DINAKAR

Rudra Pratap Singh ... a bowler for the future.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

THE sun shone bright, but Sri Lankan batting remained enveloped in darkness. The islanders' capitulation after being inserted reflected their lack of spine on this tour.

On a barren surface at the Madhav Rao Scindia Stadium, the visitors were bundled out for 196; as many as 7.2 overs still remained in the innings. The collapse was inexplicable, it was also shameful.

The Sri Lankans were inserted by India's stand-in captain Vidender Sehwag. There might have been some moisture on early in the wicket but the Lankans were off to a reasonable start with the openers adding 44.

Yuvraj Singh ... cutting out risky strokes.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

What followed was a collapse that must have left coach Tom Moody fuming in the pavilion. The wicket was occasionally two-paced, but the Lankans could have surmounted the hurdle with just a little amount of application. Sadly, from a Lankan perspective, this was lacking in their approach. The Lankans batted as if they desired to take the first bus out of Rajkot. There was not even a hint of resolve. If Marvan Atapattu's men were looking for a hole to hide on the field, they could not find any.

The Indians were certainly not complaining. It was a match where the Men in Blue found another new face putting up his hand. The youngsters seldom had it so good wearing the India colours.

Rudra Pratap Singh had spent several quiet moments in the team from the tour of Zimbabwe. His role was largely reduced to carrying drinks, but the Rae Bareilly boy has stayed focussed. When the opportunity came, he grabbed it. The left-armer's bowling on a surface where a rookie paceman was likely to struggle marked his arrival as a man for the future. Figures of four for 35 are handsome indeed on a sub-continental surface on a hot day.

He got rid of Upul Tharanga with a mean climbing delivery that surprised the left-hander and found the outside edge. It is not easy to whip up such bounce on a pitch of this nature. The small town boy was living a dream in big time cricket.

Singh operates at a lively pace. He displayed his ability to seam the ball into the right-hander from over the wicket — the key delivery for a left-armer. With powerful shoulders and wrists, he manages to extract unexpected lift. He is another new kid on the block who could make the seniors sweat in the days to come. He was sent to the Australian Cricket Academy by the NCA on the Border-Gavaskar scholarship this year and it is easy to discern why he is rated promising.

Singh, like his Uttar Pradesh mates, Mohammed Kaif and Suresh Raina learnt much of his cricket at the Sports Hostel in Lucknow. It did not take him long to catch the attention of the selectors. He was a prominent part of the India under-19 side, and his transition to the senior ranks appears to be going smoothly.

Another young bowler S. Sreesanth worked up speed and snared Sanath Jayasuriya outside the off-stump for India's first wicket. The Lankans had also begun their journey down the spiral. Apart from the combative Tillekeratne Dilshan, who notched up his second successive half century, the Lankans showed little fight. The less said about the shot selection, the better.

Said Atapattu: "It's all about getting some momentum early in the series. When you are down in a long series like this one and when things are not going your way, it is very difficult to come back. But there is no excuse to have lost the match in such a manner."

The Indians were once again sharp on the field. They swooped on the ball in a flash and direct hits were commonplace. Once a side starts knocking the stumps down, the opposition becomes tentative in its running between the wickets. This adds to the stress on the batsmen.

Spinners Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik earned praise from Sehwag and they did operate well. On his part, Sehwag rung in the right changes, and the pressure seldom eased on the Lankans. But the dashing opener needs to rediscover touch and form with the willow.

Quick work ... M. S. Dhoni stumps Mahela Jayawardene off Murali Kartik.-AP

India suffered a few hiccups in the chase it was always likely to win, but Yuvraj Singh's return to form was a significant gain for the side. In the present environment where performance and consistency are essential for survival, Yuvraj was under pressure to deliver.

If the Lankans were eyeing a comeback with India on 92 for three, Yuvraj and Mohammed Kaif shut the door on the islanders. This was Kaif's first game for India after returning from injury and he looked solid and composed.

Yuvraj, rightly, played strokes in front of the wickets cutting out the risks. The left-hander presented a glorious sight when he drove firmly off his front foot — an aspect of his batting he has been working on.

In the later half of his unbeaten 79, he did strike some effortless sixes straighter than squarer. The Punjab southpaw had entered the contest in woeful form. But the team-management had persisted with him considering Yuvraj's match-winning abilities.

The absence of off-spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan meant the hard-pressed Sri Lankan attack was further handicapped. "It makes a big difference to have Murali. The amount of turn the wicket was taking later on, his presence would have helped us greatly," said Atapattu.

The Lankan batsmen had made too little for even Muralitharan to have made a difference to the outcome.

There was more purchase for the bowlers when the Indians pursued. But then, the lack of depth in the Sri Lankan attack came to the fore. The Lankans face a serious rebuilding phase.

The scores

India v Sri Lanka, 6th ODI, Rajkot, November 9, 2005. India won by seven wickets. Man of the Match: R. P. Singh.

Sri Lanka: W. U. Tharanga c Dhoni b Singh 28; S. Jayasuriya c Dhoni b Santh 19; K. Sangakkara c Tendulkar b Pathan 9; M. Jayawardene st. Dhoni b Kartik 14; M. Atapattu c Sehwag b Singh 9; T. Dilshan (run out) 59; R. Arnold (run out) 8; C. Vaas b Kartik 9; U. Chandana b Singh 30; M. F. Maharoof c Kaif b Singh 4; D. Fernando (not out) 4; Extras (w-2, nb-1) 3. Total (in 42.5 overs) 196.

Fall of wickets: 1-44, 2-56, 3-57, 4-79, 5-83, 6-118, 7-132, 8-161, 9-182.

India bowling: Pathan 7-0-31-1; Santh 8-0-50-1; Singh 8.5-2-35-4; Kartik 10-1-42-2; Harbhajan 9-1-38-0.

India: G. Gambhir b Fernando 28; S. Tendulkar c Maharoof b Fernando 19; V. Sehwag c Dilshan b Chandana 22; M. Kaif (not out) 38; Yuvraj Singh (not out) 79; Extras (w-3, nb-8) 11. Total (for three wkts. in 34.5 overs) 197.

Fall of wickets: 1-43, 2-57, 3-92.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 7-0-38-0; Fernando 10-1-58-2; Maharoof 4-0-24-0; Jayasuriya 3.5-0-22-0; Chandana 5-0-32-1; Dilshan 5-0-23-0.

Sri Lanka full substitute: M. F. Maharoof (N. Zoysa, Sri Lanka innings, 36.1 ov).

India full substitute: S. K. Raina (M. Kartik, Sri Lanka innings, 36.1 ov).