Victory brings hope and belief

The victorious Indian team with the trophy.-AP

Hurt by the loss against Sri Lanka in the last league match, India turned on the heat in the summit clash. A few twists of fate also helped India's progress to the victor's podium as skipper M. S. Dhoni called correctly at the toss, a factor that often determines results in Sri Lanka, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The cricketing gods smiled on M. S. Dhoni and his men. The Indian team won the Asia Cup at Dambulla through a largely effective campaign that culminated in the final on June 24 where Sri Lanka was deflated. India won by 81 runs.

India bucked history and current odds to scuttle an upbeat host. India last won the Asia Cup in 1995, while Sri Lanka was the defending champion and on the verge of scoring a hat-trick of triumphs after having secured the title in 2004 and 2008.

Cricket frenzy grips the island  

Dhoni's men, hurt by the loss against Sri Lanka in the last league game, turned on the heat in the summit clash. A few twists of fate also helped India's progress to the victor's podium as Dhoni called correctly at the toss, a factor that often determines results in Sri Lanka.

“The toss does play a part in these parts, when we last played in Colombo (Compaq Cup) we knew that if we won the toss half the job was done though we do have to go out there and execute our plans,” Dhoni said.

The Indian batsmen then struck brief roots but it was more than enough as runs came at a steady trot while Dinesh Karthik (66, 84b, 9x4) and Rohit Sharma (41) strengthened the beginning and the end to help post a competitive 268 for six in 50 overs.

“We all had our starts but we could not go on to score big,” rued Dhoni.

However, it was heartening that the Indians managed to go past 250 while its regular talismans of hope through the tournament — Dhoni (38) and Gautam Gambhir (15) — failed to last long.

In the end, the runs proved adequate. Sri Lanka's batting thrives on the pincer attacks launched upfront by Tillakaratne Dilshan, but the moment he flat-batted a pull straight to Harbhajan Singh in Praveen Kumar's first over and was dismissed for a blob, the Indians were buzzing. The top order crumbled as Upul Tharanga had no clue to a Zaheer Khan special and Ashish Nehra (four for 40) prised out Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews and the Sri Lankan skipper, Kumar Sangakkara, to leave the host gasping at 51 for five.

The Sri Lankan collapse was much akin to what happened to India in the Asia Cup final in Karachi in 2008 when Ajantha Mendis proved to be a mystery that was hard to crack. Mendis bagged six wickets and India lost the match.

The issue of scheduling and poor floodlights  

Cut to the present, Sri Lanka never recovered and though Chamara Kapugedera (55 not out) stayed firm, the rest wilted and the host was bowled out for 187 in 44.4 overs.

“We lost Dilshan early and we got a bit defensive and too many wickets fell,” Sangakkara said while giving due credit to the Indian seamers for exploiting the conditions under lights.

The two finalists had a set pattern in their approach to the summit clash as facile victories against Bangladesh and nerve-wracking triumphs against Pakistan were registered. Pakistan, in the process of re-building with a young core, was bolstered by the return of Shoaib Akhtar, who threatened to be the spoiler against India and Sri Lanka before ebbing away.

“The team is improving and what they are missing on the field, they will gain with experience,” said coach Waqar Younis.

Pakistan briefly hit the high notes with Shahid Afridi's bruising hundreds — 109 (76b, 8x4, 7x6) against Sri Lanka and 124 (60b, 17x4, 4x6) against Bangladesh — which fetched the skipper the ‘Man of the Tournament' award and an Indigo Manza. Small comfort for the fiery Pathan, who also had to endure a heart-break as his team failed to stymie India in a close contest that Dhoni's men won by three wickets.

Gambhir (83, 97b, 6x4, 1x6), Dhoni (56), Suresh Raina (34) and Harbhajan Singh's (15 not out) late surge helped India edge past Pakistan in the final over of a clash that had its share of verbal spats.

“It was an entertaining game and it is unfortunate that we lost, but India played well,” Afridi said.

The tournament's whipping boys Bangladesh slumped from one fiasco to another and captain Shakib Al Hasan said: “We are playing well individually but not as a team.”

An upset Bangladesh coach Jamie Siddons blamed his seamers for gifting away runs. The team continues to rely heavily on opener Tamim Iqbal, who at the moment seems to be the lone batsman capable of holding his head in the stormy waters of international cricket. The rest just failed to put up a fight and that is a sad augury for a team that, apart from its upset victory against India in the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean Isles, has done little of note to justify the faith invested in it by the International Cricket Council and the fans ranging from Dhaka to Chittagong.

Yuvraj has to prove his worth  

For India, the tournament gifted hope and belief, while the hamstring injury suffered by Virender Sehwag and the tepid show of Raina and Virat Kohli remained areas of concern.

“In the months ahead we hope to do even better and have our best players fit and available during those crucial months of the World Cup, next year,” Dhoni said.

The tournament was supposed to be another testimony for the peace and quiet in the Emerald Island after the ethnic crisis was solved, and the Sri Lankan Cricket Board officials stressed on how the Asia Cup could also spin off a positive inflow of tourists. The intentions are noble but that does not cover up the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium's obvious flaws, the most glaring one being the poor quality of floodlights that forced the extension of the dinner break in two matches. Luckily the four captains did not make a fuss as Asian solidarity ruled!


Asia Cup final: Sri Lanka v India, Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, June 24. Result: India won by 81 runs.

India: G. Gambhir (run out) 15, D. Karthik c Jayawardene b Kandamby 66, V. Kohli c Sangakkara b Malinga 28, M. S. Dhoni c Kulasekara b Kandamby 38, R. Sharma c Maharoof b Kulasekara 41, S. Raina lbw Malinga 29, R. Jadeja (not out) 25, Harbhajan Singh (not out) 7, Extras (b-2, lb-7, w-9, nb-1) 19. Total (for six wickets, 50 overs) 268.

Fall of wickets: 1-38, 2-100, 3-146, 4-167, 5-217, 6-249.

Sri Lanka bowling: Kulasekara 9-0-44-1, Malinga 10-0-57-2, Maharoof 6-0-41-0, Mathews 3-1-16-0, Muralitharan 10-0-34-0, Kandamby 7-0-37-2, Dilshan 5-0-30-0.

Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga b Khan 16, T. Dilshan c Harbhajan b Praveen 0, K. Sangakkara c Zaheer b Nehra 17, M. Jayawardene c Dhoni b Nehra 11, A. Mathews c Dhoni b Nehra 0, T. Kandamby (run out) 31, C. Kapugedera (not out) 55, F. Maharoof c Dhoni b Zaheer 10, N. Kulasekara st. Dhoni b Jadeja 20, L. Malinga c Jadeja b Nehra 7, M. Muralitharan c Dhoni b Jadeja 2, Extras (b-4, lb-3, w-9, nb-2) 18. Total (in 44.4 overs) 187.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-31, 3-50, 4-50, 5-51, 6-104, 7-132, 8-168, 9-177.

India bowling: Praveen Kumar 9-1-29-1, Zaheer Khan 8-2-36-2, Nehra 9-0-40-4, Harbhajan Singh 9-0-30-0, Kohli 3-0-16-0, Jadeja 6.4-0-29-2.