Shaping up well towards the 2015 World Cup

After the euphoria of the Champions Trophy campaign, the Tri-Series in the Caribbean felt like a tired afterthought, a needless excursion forced on players days after an emotionally draining triumph in Birmingham.

Up until the final, and M. S. Dhoni’s eleventh-hour heroics therein, the Celkon Mobile Cup barely registered on the consciousness of the average Indian. After the euphoria of the Champions Trophy campaign, this tournament felt like a tired afterthought, a needless excursion forced on players days after an emotionally draining triumph in Birmingham.

According to the Future Tours Programme, this was meant to be a bilateral series, including two Tests, between West Indies and Sri Lanka (originally in April-May), but — for obvious reasons — India was invited and the five-day games scrapped.

This is not to disparage the competition — it offered India a trying examination — but merely the timing of it.

In the event, India finished with yet another ODI trophy, inspired by a preposterously serene captain in the final. Things had seemed on track in pursuit of Sri Lanka’s 201 until a collapse — six wickets for 43 in some 15 overs — effected chiefly by Rangana Herath, turned the tide.

It left India’s last-wicket pair of Dhoni and Ishant Sharma with 19 to get from 22 balls. The skipper turned down singles — although Ishant didn’t always seem to get the memo on time — and played out Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga. It meant 15 runs were needed off Shaminda Eranga’s last over. Dhoni failed to connect with the first ball but six, four and six followed: a formula for victory brutal in its simplicity. Sri Lanka will be sick at the sight of him; India will be relieved he is on its side.

“Dhoni has done it over and over for us, so we were all positive in the dressing room,” Rohit Sharma said afterwards. “We’ve seen him doing it for many years now. This wasn’t any surprise.”

India’s road to the final, though, was as undulating as some of the pitches used in the competition. A narrow defeat to the West Indies in the first game, Johnson Charles standing out with 97, preceded a mauling at the hands of Sri Lanka. Upul Tharanga struck an unbeaten 174 and Mahela Jayawardene a fine 107 as India suffered a heavy 161-run loss. India’s fielding, arguably the best on display at the Champions Trophy, was disappointing on this occasion.

India thus needed to win its last two matches to even have a chance of making the final. Virat Kohli made 102 as India first hammered the West Indies to win with a bonus point, before a remarkable spell of bowling from Bhuvneshwar Kumar (four for eight in six overs) earned another sizeable victory, this time over Sri Lanka.

The wickets in Kingston and Port of Spain were uneven (as Rohit — who took a couple of blows on the body — will attest), but they were, by all accounts, moist and assisted seam bowling. Batting was not easy and the pattern of low scores, despite not making for great watching through the middle overs, served up some tight finishes.

After Dhoni injured his hamstring midway through the opener, Virat Kohli took over as captain, offering India a glimpse of his abilities in the role.

He lost his first game in full charge, when leaving Bhuvneshwar out might have been an error, but led from the front with a hundred in the next.

Against the West Indies in Jamaica, Kohli attacked with his field — not that there was much option — and admitted that Dhoni’s calm presence was missed. But he did not fare too badly.

While Shikhar Dhawan may have seemed human again, India will be encouraged by Rohit’s performances. There wasn’t much scope for stroke-play but the 26-year-old batted with composure, a quality hitherto alien to him. Rohit racked up innings of 60, 46, 48 n.o. and 58 — India’s top-scorer in the tournament.

Bhuvneshwar’s form continued to be a positive aspect. He emerged the competition’s highest wicket-taker alongside Herath, swinging India to victory in the last league game over Sri Lanka. Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma managed seven and eight wickets each but were less impressive in their consistency, while Ravindra Jadeja proved invaluable with the ball again. Dinesh Karthik will be worried, after returns of 86 runs from five innings, as will Murali Vijay.

In the final analysis, the aura of infallibility that was acquired in the UK slipped in the Caribbean but there still remains a spine of good players as the team builds towards the 2015 World Cup.

THE SCORES

Tri-Nation Series — Final: India v Sri Lanka, Port of Spain, Trinidad, July 11, 2013. Result: India won by one wicket.

Sri Lanka 201 in 48.5 overs (K. Sangakkara 71, L. Thirimanne 46, R. Jadeja 4-23) lost to India 203 for nine in 49.4 overs (R. Sharma 58, S. Raina 32, M. S. Dhoni 45 n.o., R. Herath 4-20).

League — Match No. India 119 for three in 29 overs (R. Sharma 48 n.o., V. Kohli 31) beat Sri Lanka 96 in 24.4 overs (D. Chandimal 26, B. Kumar 4-8).

Match No. 5: Sri Lanka 219 for eight in 41 overs (K. Sangakkara 90 n.o., A. Mathews 30, K. Roach 4-27) beat West Indies 190 for nine in 41 overs (D. Bravo 70, L. Simmons 67, S. Eranga 3-46, A. Mathews 4-29).

Match No. 4: India 311 for seven in 50 overs (R. Sharma 46, S. Dhawan 69, V. Kohli 102, M. Vijay 27, R. Ashwin 25 n.o.) beat West Indies 171 in 34 overs (J. Charles 45, K. Roach 34, B. Kumar3-29, U. Yadav 3-32).

Match No. 3: Sri Lanka 348 for one in 50 overs (U. Tharanga 174 n.o., M. Jayawardena 107, A. Mathews 44 n.o.) beat India 187 in 44.5 overs (M. Vijay 30, S. Raina 33, R. Jadeja 49 n.o., R. Herath 3-37).

Match No. 2: India 229 for seven in 50 overs (R. Sharma 60, S. Raina 44, M. S. Dhoni 27) lost to West Indies 230 for nine in 47.4 overs (J. Charles 97, D. Bravo 55, D. Sammy 29, U. Yadav 3-43).

Match No. 1: Sri Lanka 208 in 48.3 overs (U. Tharanga 25, M. Jayawardena 52, A. Mathews 55 n.o., R. Rampaul 3-38, S. Narine 4-40) lost to West Indies 209 for four in 37.5 overs (C. Gayle 109, J. Charles 29, D. 27).

A Special Correspondent