Pathans to the fore

Irfan and Yusuf packed a punch together on a dramatic night of fortune swings. In a stressful situation, the brothers were calm. The right-left pairing of Man of the Match Yusuf and Irfan orchestrated a remarkable win. By S. Dinakar.

One can expect the unexpected in Twenty20 cricket. The extreme form of instant cricket can also throw up instant heroes.

The humdinger at the Premadasa Stadium, filled to the brim, swung in one over.

Indeed, India was reeling at 115 for seven when Ravindra Jadeja got himself yorked by leg-spinner Malinga Bandara. A buoyant crowd went delirious.

An inexperienced Sri Lankan side threatened the World Champion in a historic first Twenty20 international on the Lankan soil. The host was poised for the kill.

Enter the Pathan bothers, Yusuf and Irfan. And the contest turned on its head. What followed was astonishing.

Yusuf is known for his power. His ability to pick the length early and hit through the line is also acknowledged. When he strikes the ball, it stays hit; there are no half measures.

Leg-spinner Bandara had imposed himself on the contest. He was also mixing his stock ball with the googly and cleverly altering his length. Someone had to take him on.

Finding the boundaries or clearing the fence was the answer. India had the right man for the demolition job. Not for nothing is Yusuf among the most feared batsmen in the shortest format of the game.

Yusuf went for broke. In a stunning strike, the lanky right-hander hit Bandara over covers. Soon he bludgeoned the spinner over the long-on boundary. When Bandara slipped in a flatter one, Yusuf slog-swept the leggie for six more.

The hunter was becoming the hunted. Yusuf had put his foot on the accelerator but this was a night when Irfan would not be left behind. The left-handed Irfan took on the pacemen. An inside-out cover-drive off Lasith Malinga screamed for attention. The game was slipping from the Lankan grasp.

Irfan’s inventiveness settled the issue in the 19th over. He pulled paceman Dilhara Fernando over mid-wicket for the maximum, opened the face of the blade for a brace and ended the over with a lofted boundary on the off-side. India required just five from the final over. After Yusuf took a single, Irfan put away the second delivery from Malinga over the mid-wicket fence. India had successfully chased 172.

Irfan and Yusuf packed a punch together on a dramatic night of fortune swings. In a stressful situation, the brothers were calm. The right-left pairing of Man of the Match Yusuf (22 not out, 10b, 1x4, 2x6) and Irfan (33 not out, 16b, 2x4, 2x6) orchestrated a remarkable win.

As the thriller neared conclusion, the pressures of the game caught up with the Lankans. Malinga — returning to international cricket — and Fernando were lively but lacked precision. The Lankans were also undone by a right-left combination.

Skipper Dilshan’s inexperience showed. He blundered by ignoring Sanath Jayasuriya in the end overs. With his flattish left-arm spin, the wily Jayasuriya had not allowed the batsmen to get under the ball for the big hits in his first three overs.

Sri Lanka was off to a flying start though. A gravity-defying Chamara Kapugedera hit the stumps from point to run out Virender Sehwag. Despite the in-form Yuvraj Singh and the talented Suresh Raina whipping up some exhilarating stroke-play, India kept losing wickets. Bandara was in the thick of things. Then there was a turnaround.

Earlier, the Indian bowlers regrouped well to restrict Sri Lanka to 171 four four after the host won the toss.

Dilshan was dropped at mid-off — by Irfan Pathan — off Zaheer in an eventful first over. Dilshan did not let the piece of good fortune go waste. It was a fighting innings (61, 47b, 7x4, 1x6) from the captain. With sparkling footwork, he was able to convert length. While Dilshan delighted through the off-side, he was quick to seize leg-side opportunities.

Spinners, offie Yusuf and left-armer Jadeja, bowled with discipline. Yusuf was quicker through the air, Jadeja got the ball to drift into the right-hander.

A couple of obvious umpiring decisions did not go in India’s favour during this phase, but the two spinners pegged back the run-rate.

Jehan Mubarak’s ponderous ways at the crease also saw the Lankans losing momentum after Jayasuriya had fired at the start.

In a young man’s game — Twenty20 — an old dasher continues to sizzle with his eye, reflexes and bold stroke-play. Those short-arm jabs on either side and the fierce lofted blows in front of the wicket continue to deflate the ego of the bowlers. Jayasuriya’s 17-ball 33 included an awesome cover-driven six off Ishant.

Later in the night, the Pathan brothers leapt for joy. You can never tell in Twenty20.

THE SCORES

R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, February 10. India won by three wickets.

Sri Lanka innings: T. M. Dilshan c Raina b I Sharma 61; S. T. Jayasuriya c Ishant b Irfan Pathan 33; J. Mubarak c & b Yusuf Pathan 13; C. K. Kapugedera c Sehwag b Yusuf Pathan 16; L. P. C. Silva (not out) 21; K. Weeraratne (not out) 10; Extras (b 1, lb 10, w 6) 17; Total (four wkts. In 20 overs) 171.

Fall of wickets: 1-59, 2-87, 3-107, 4-152.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 4-0-34-0; Ishant Sharma 4-0-40-1; Irfan Pathan 4-0-34-1; Yusuf Pathan 4-0-23-2; Jadeja 4-0-29-0.

India innings: G. Gambhir c Weeraratne b Thushara 13; V. Sehwag (run out) 1 4; S. K. Raina c de Saram b Bandara 35; Yuvraj Singh c Dilshan b Mubarak 32; M. S. Dhoni b Bandara 13; R. G. Sharma c Mubarak b Jayasuriya 4; R. A. Jadeja b Bandara 5; Yusuf Pathan (not out) 22; Irfan Pathan (not out) 33; Extras (lb 2, w 14) 16. Total (for seven wkts. in 19.2 overs) 174

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-14, 3-81, 4-99, 5-108, 6-110, 7-115.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 3.2-0-38-0; Thushara 3-0-27-1; Fernando 4-0-44-0; Weeraratne 1-0-12-0; Mubarak 1-0-9-1; Bandara 4-0-32-3; Jayasuriya 3-0-10-1.