The ‘catch’ in India’s cricket

Ajantha Mendis got rid of four Indian batsmen, including the captain Virat Kohli.-AP

Virat Kohli’s men didn’t play “smart cricket” and paid the price. By Arun Venugopal.

It’s hard to pinpoint how India goofed up to the extent it did in the field against Sri Lanka. But, more on that later in this piece. After losing the toss, Sri Lanka opted to bowl at Fatullah, where a neutral crowd was waiting to savour quality action. Not the ideal scenario for India, which would have preferred chasing as well. But the situation, in any case, wasn’t anywhere near dire.

Rohit Sharma, for the second match in a row in the Asia Cup, and for quite sometime now, struggled to find his bearings. His inability to either churn the strike or dispatch the balls to the fence was severely hurting India. His partner, Shikhar Dhawan, found himself under extra pressure. There wasn’t the cool daredevilry that Dhawan would often flaunt with a broad smile.

Rohit’s agony did come to an end, and India wouldn’t have minded the dismissal for captain Virat Kohli strode out purposefully. Kohli’s innings was as far removed from Rohit’s as it could possibly be. There wasn’t any indication of struggle, as Dhawan, too, grew in confidence.

Just as when, it was taken for granted that Kohli’s 20th century was going to come anyway, Ajantha Mendis pulled out one of those sharp tricks he had a reputation for when he first came in. In this event, the 28-year-old Mendis was playing against India for the first time since June 2010. His carrom ball had Kohli shrugging and nodding his head in appreciation for the craft involved.

Ajinkya Rahane and Dhawan, then, ensured there would be seamless progression, but once Rahane and Dhawan departed in quick succession, the panic button was well and truly pressed.

An inexperienced middle-order exposed its vulnerability as Mendis and Chaturanga de Silva, a cheeky left-arm spinner, wheeled away along with the offie Sachithra Senanayake, who reminds one of Kumar Dharmasena.

A target of 265 was certainly under-par, but Ravindra Jadeja and R. Ashwin made Sri Lanka labour to get there. If only India hadn’t put down four catches, apart from missing to stump Kumar Sangakkara when he was on 30, it could have come through unscathed.

Kusal Perera and Lahiru Thirimanne, both encouraged by comparisons with Sanath Jayasuriya and Sangakkara respectively, thrived from India’s fielding lapses. While the catches were admittedly difficult, it didn’t help that all of them went down in quick succession. The collision between Dhawan and Rahane was as embarrassing as it was comical, reminding us of the Ambati Rayudu-Mohammed Shami incident during the game against Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka’s seemingly easy chase was disrupted by a Jadeja twin-strike. Ashwin also reached the milestone, of 100 wickets in ODIs. But Sangakkara batted on with the determination of a hungry hunter, picking up runs in clusters and trickles.

When India’s seamers struggled to grip the dew-soaked ball, he dished out a flurry of stunning hits. When he got out in the climactic stages, India had a tiny opening. It could have been much bigger had Dhawan held on to an easy catch in the last over. Sri Lanka required merely a run, but had only two wickets in hand. Thisara Perera’s exit might have opened the route to a possible victory.

But, as Kohli, whose captaincy was admirably restrained, remarked later, his boys hadn’t played “smart cricket.”

THE SCORES

India: R. Sharma lbw b Senanayake 13, S. Dhawan b Mendis 94, V. Kohli b Mendis 48, A. Rahane c Thirimanne b Senanayake 22, A. Rayudu c K. Perera b Chaturanga 18, D. Karthik c Chaturanga b Mendis 4, R. Jadeja (not out) 22, S. Binny lbw b Senanayake 0, R. Ashwin b Malinga 18, B. Kumar st. Sangakkara b Mendis 0, M. Shami (not out) 14, Extras (b-4, lb-1, w-6) 11, Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs) 264.

Fall of wickets: 1-33, 2-130, 3-175, 4-196, 5-200, 6-214, 7-215, 8-245, 9-247.

Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 10-0-58-1, Mathews 3.2-1-9-0, Senanayake 10-0-41-3, T. Perera 6.4-0-40-0, Mendis 10-0-60-4, Chaturanga 10-0-51-1.

Sri Lanka: K. Perera c Karthik b Ashwin 64, L. Thirimanne lbw b Ashwin 38, K. Sangakkara c Ashwin b Shami 103, M. Jayawardene c Rohit b Jadeja 9, D. Chandimal b Jadeja 0, A. Mathews lbw b Shami 6, S. Senanayake c Rohit b Shami 12, Chaturanga de Silva lbw b Jadeja 9, T. Perera (not out) 11, A. Mendis (not out) 5, Extras (lb-7, w-1) 8, Total (for eight wkts. in 49.2 overs) 265.

Fall of wickets: 1-80, 2-134, 3-148, 4-148, 5-165, 6-183, 7-216, 8-258.

India bowling: Bhuvneshwar 9.2-1-45-0, Shami 10-0-81-3, Ashwin 10-0-42-2, Binny 4-0-22-0, Jadeja 10-1-30-3, Rayudu 1-0-9-0, Rohit 5-0-29-0.