The Jayasuriya factor

SANJAY RAJAN

Muttiah Muralitharan... as incisive as ever.-

AS Rahul Dravid put it later, sometimes it is no disgrace losing to a champion. "Every time you watch someone like Sanath (Jayasuriya) play like that, it's a lesson not only to youngsters, but all of us," said the Indian captain of the ageing Lion.

The Marauder from Matara rarely ever fails against India. But this innings was different, as the situation was difficult and the 36-year-old southpaw was batting with his right shoulder tightly strapped.

"We had a plan of course," said the Sri Lankan captain Marvan Atapattu, after the host's three-wicket victory with 10 deliveries to spare in the opening match of the IndianOil Cup tri-series. "Had we got to, say 150 for three, Sanath would not have batted. But if things went wrong, then he would get some injections and go and get the runs for us."

That was exactly what Jayasuriya (43 not out) did under lights at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium on July 30. Walking in at 104 for four, he guided the side past the target of 206 with a controlled effort, handling off-spinners Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan and the three left-arm seamers in a composed manner.

Jayasuriya had suffered the injury while fielding earlier in the afternoon. One feared then that this was similar to what he had sustained in that very shoulder in Morocco in 2002, which had forced him out of the game for nearly six weeks.

With Jayasuriya needing medical attention, Sri Lanka was left one bowler short, and that counted for a lot considering that the host attack was without the experienced pair of Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa, both down with injuries.

But Farveez Mahroof and debutant Dilhara Lokuhettige were up to the task. Mahroof's first spell read 8-0-21-1, including the prized scalp of Virender Sehwag, and Lokuhettige's was an equally impressive 8-2-26-2. Thereafter, the spinners ran through the middle overs, with Muralitharan returning three for 33 off his 10 overs.

Irfan Pathan a good show by the leftarmer.-

India was looking for a long innings from Sehwag, considering the top-order was short on experience in the absence of V. V. S. Laxman, who suffered back spasms. That was not to be, as the Najafgarh batsman departed in the third over, after Dravid opted to take first strike.

Promoting Yuvraj Singh to the crucial No. 3 slot was a gamble. Dravid might have wanted an experienced hand to beef up the top-order, but the move backfired. The Punjab lad is a finisher, and not a long innings player. Mahroof beat Yuvraj around the off-stump frequently. The left-hander was clearly uncomfortable against the moving ball, as was evident during the Test series at home against Australia. He was also a failure in the three previous ODIs that he had batted one-drop.

The move also upset the middle-order, where Yuvraj and Md. Kaif at five and six usually bolster the scoring rate with their dynamic ways. That was missing now.

India found runs difficult to come by and was 48 for two at the end of 15 overs and 64 for five, five overs later. It was Dravid's half-century, a defiant 38 by debutant Venugopala Rao and use of the long-handle by the tail, which saw India finish at 205 for nine. A good recovery, considering that the average first innings score at this venue is 199.

On changing the batting composition, Dravid said, "In the absence of Laxman we had to do a bit of shuffling. We gave a couple of young guys a chance. I thought Venugopala batted quite well, while the other debutant, Suresh Raina, was a little unfortunate to get out first ball. It was an inexperienced batting line-up."

However, Dravid did not think the batting failure was a major cause for concern. "We have some very good players in the top-order, though we are missing a bit of experience. I hope they'll come good. I mean someone has got to put his hands up and be counted. It's early in the tournament and I have enough confidence they'll come good."

Dravid described the pitch as a 250-run wicket. "We should have batted a bit better. But we certainly bowled and fielded well. That's a plus we take from this game, and if we do this consistently and put up decent starts we'll win a few games," he said.

"The conditions assisted the seamers in the evening. So I think we got the combination right. Three seamers and one spinner is pretty much a decent mix," said Dravid of his attack.

The Indian new ball pair of Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan sent back Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, while Raina's direct hit to the wicket-keeper's end from square-leg did Marvan Atapattu in.

Tillekaratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold took the side past the 100-run mark with a 44-run stand off 74 deliveries for the fourth wicket, before the former fell leg-before to off-spinner Harbhajan Singh while playing across the line.

Harbhajan struck again, when he had Arnold bowled, playing for the turn. India had every reason to smile, having dismissed the top-half of the Lankan line-up for 112 (29.4 overs).

Only, Jayasuriya, who began this innings 76 short of 10,000 ODI runs, was still in the middle. And nothing is quite over as long as he is in the middle.

Jayasuriya found support in Lokuhettige, who made a daring 21. The two put on 28 for the sixth wicket, before the youngster played-on to Pathan. Amid mounting tension, Jayasuriya and Upul Chandana slowly and steadily whittled down the difference. With 38 needed for victory, Jayasuriya had a reprieve, a difficult opportunity for Dravid at slip off Sehwag.

Zaheer, reintroduced into the attack, struck when he had Chandana caught behind, but Mahroof and Jayasuriya sealed the contest with their stand of 37.

Jaysuriya scored the winning runs — a pull to the fence off Raina — to cap a great display of personal courage and a workman-like performance to rescue the team.

The Scores

India: V. Sehwag b Mahroof 14, M. Dhoni b Lokuhettige 2, Yuvraj Singh c (sub) Taranga b Lokuhettige 12, R. Dravid b Chandana 54, M. Kaif c Muralitharan b Fernando 8, S. Raina lbw b Muralitharan 0, Venugopala Rao c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 38, I. Pathan c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 21, Harbhajan Singh (not out) 20, Zaheer Khan (run out) 20, A. Nehra (not out) 2; Extras (lb-6, w-6, nb-2) 14. Total (for nine wkts. in 50 overs) 205.

Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-22, 3-44, 4-63, 5-64, 6-122, 7-159, 8-159, 9-202.

Sri Lanka bowling: Mahroof 9-0-27-1, Lokuhettige 10-2-31-2, Fernando 10-1-61-1, Muralitharan 10-1-33-3, Chandana 5-0-26-1, Dilshan 3-0-14-0, Arnold 3-0-7-0.

Sri Lanka: K. Sangakkara lbw b Pathan 14, M. Atapattu (run out) 29, M. Jayawardene b Zaheer 15, T. Dilshan lbw b Harbhajan 17, R. Arnold b Harbhajan 22, S. Jayasuriya (not out) 43, D. Lokuhettige b Pathan 21, U. Chandana c Dhoni b Zaheer 11, F. Mahroof (not out) 23; Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-7) 14. Total (for seven wkts. in 48.2 overs) 209.

Fall of wickets: 1-19, 2-55, 3-60, 4-104, 5-112, 6-140, 7-170.

India bowling: Pathan 10-2-43-2, Zaheer 10-1-32-2, Nehra 10-1-34-0, Harbhajan 10-0-44-2, Sehwag 8-0-45-0, Raina 0.2-0-4-0.