Some consolation for Sri Lanka

The final ODI might have been a dead rubber game but there was plenty riding on the match. India was seeking a Perfect 10 — its tenth successive ODI victory — and a never-before-achieved 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka, which is considered hard to beat at home. But the visiting team came a cropper. By S. Dinakar.

The Indians drifted away from the game for a while in the middle overs; it appeared Mahendra Singh Dhoni was trying out his non-regular bowlers in a match situation. Sri Lanka consolidated. Dhoni led India well during the decisive part of the ODI series but had an ordinary game as skipper in the last match. Everyone apart from Dhoni and opener Gautam Gambhir bowled.

When part-time bowlers operate — even if they actually manage to peg back the run-rate — the level of intensity drops from the perspective of the fielding side. The batsmen, with their wickets not threatened, have the option of easing into singles and twos and wait for the loose offerings to play the big shots. Tillekeratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara cashed in on the situation. Sanath Jayasuriya’s blitzkrieg (37, 35b, 7x4) and some punishing batting from Dilshan powered Sri Lanka to 66 for one in 10.1 overs. Then, Dilshan and Sangakkara took the total to 209 before the latter was dismissed off the fifth ball of the 33rd over.

This was the period where the game got away from the Indians. Dhoni could have managed his overs better; comeback man L. Balaji bowled no more than five overs in two spells.

For a change, Sri Lanka won the toss. From an Indian standpoint, chasing, after defending in three games, was not such a bad idea. The team had climbed to the second spot in the ICC ODI ratings and pursuing a target meant it was being challenged differently.

The fifth ODI might have been a dead rubber game but there was plenty riding on the match. India was seeking a Perfect 10 — its tenth successive ODI victory — and a never-before-achieved 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka, which is considered hard to beat at home.

The host — as skipper Mahela Jayawardene hoped — pulled back the last game. “We cannot just give up. There is a lot of cricket left in the season and we would like to win the last one to put us back on the track,” he had said before the match.

Dilshan (97, 117b, 9x4) — fluent on the off-side — and the left-handed Sangakkara (84, 70b, 8x4, 1x6) — creating opportunities on the leg-side — certainly put Sri Lanka on the path to victory. Despite an alarming slump — the host slid from 255 for two to 256 for six — Sri Lanka recovered to 320 for eight in 50 overs.

Farvez Maharoof biffed effectively towards the end and the host found boundaries in the batting Power Play, taken in the final five overs.

In reply, India folded up for 252 in the 49th over. The Lankans bowled to the field, forced errors and appeared a better unit on the field. Crucially, the Lankan pacemen bowled with discipline. Left-arm paceman Thilan Thushara had Virender Sehwag miscuing a drive off a fuller length ball to the off-side cordon; driving a delivery of this length required the batsman to get to the pitch of the ball and Sehwag didn’t. Denying Sehwag the room and bowling the right length is vital while operating against this belligerent batsman.

Kumar Sangakkara stood up to medium-pacer Nuwan Kulasekara — the idea was to prevent the Indian batsmen from taking stance outside the crease or charge down the track — and his glove-work was excellent. To his credit, Kulasekara moved the ball away from the left-handed Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina to find the edges; Sangakkara snaffled them up.

The intrepid Yuvraj Singh (73, 62b, 11x4, 1x6) kept India in the hunt; his power-packed drives scorching the turf. While his confidence has grown, his feet in stance are closer. The left-hander is more balanced in his offence and defence and has increased his range of strokes.

Muttiah Muralitharan finally consumed Yuvraj on the pull and the steady Ajantha Mendis maintained the pressure from the other end. Jayasuriya prised out the Indian captain with his consistent left-arm spin.

Dhoni, despite a niggle in the tendon behind the knee, and debutant Ravindra Jadeja prolonged India’s resistance. The left-handed Jadeja’s 60 (77b, 5x4) was a pleasing effort. He uses his feet and is a good timer of the ball. He seems to have a good temperament too.

Jadeja moved swiftly on the field but had a mixed outing with the ball; the left-handed Sangakkara was able to strike him with the spin. In the days to come, bowling will be Jadeja’s principal job. India has plenty of batsmen.

THE SCORES

R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, February 8, 2009.

Result: Sri Lanka won by 68 runs.

Sri Lanka: T. M. Dilshan (run out) 97, S. T. Jayasuriya c Raina b I. K. Pathan 37, K. C. Sangakkara c R. G. Sharma b Yuvraj 84, S. H. T. Kandamby b I. Sharma 26, D. P. M. D. Jayawardene c Raina b Yuvraj 1, C. K. Kapugedera c Dhoni b I. Sharma 0, M. F. Maharoof (run out) 32, T. Thushara c & b I. Sharma 11, K. M. D. N. Kulasekara (not out) 10, M. Muralitharan (not out) 3, Extras (b-3, lb-8, w-7, nb-1) 19. Total: (8 wkts, 50 overs) 320.

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-209, 3-255, 4-255, 5-256, 6-256, 7-277, 8-315.

India bowling: I. K. Pathan 9-0-55-1, I. Sharma 10-0-60-3, L. Balaji 5-0-32-0, V. Sehwag 3-0-26-0, R. A. Jadeja 6-0-40-0, Y. K. Pathan 3-0-20-0, S. K. Raina 6-0-24-0, Yuvraj Singh 6-0-39-2, R. G. Sharma 2-0-13-0.

India: G. Gambhir c Sangakkara b Kulasekara 13, V. Sehwag c Jayasuriya b Thushara 6, S. Raina c Sangakkara b Kulasekara 0, Yuvraj Singh c & b Muralitharan 73, R. G. Sharma c Kulasekara b Maharoof 15, M. S. Dhoni c Kulasekara b Jayasuriya 53, Y. K. Pathan lbw b Muralitharan 3, R. A. Jadeja (not out) 60, I. K. Pathan c Kapugedera b Mendis 8, L. Balaji c Kulasekara b Mendis 7, I. Sharma b Maharoof 4, Extras (lb-2, w-8) 10. Total: (48.5 overs) 252.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-9, 3-52, 4-85, 5-121, 6-138, 7-193, 8-217, 9-243.

Sri Lanka bowling: K. M. D. N. Kulasekara 9-0-42-2, T. Thushara 6-0-34-1, M. F. Maharoof 5.5-0-46-2, M. Muralitharan 10-0-41-2, B. A. W. Mendis 10-0-44-2, S. T. Jayasuriya 6-0-28-1, T. M. Dilshan 2-0-15-0.