Yuvraj Singh back in the groove

After Yuvraj Singh blazed away under the lights, skipper M. S. Dhoni steered India home in a thriller with clever nudges, pushes and half-drives. S. Dinakar reports.

Captaincy is more about backing the players you believe in. There are occasions when a captain, under stress, may have to publicly defend his cricketers. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has faith in Yuvraj Singh. At every interaction with the media, he would say, “Yuvi is just one innings away from regaining form.”

Yuvraj proved his skipper right under the lights at the Adelaide Oval.

He blazed a match-winning innings when his team needed runs. Match-winners come rare.

Much about batting is how a player evolves. And the transformation in Dhoni has been remarkable. After Yuvraj had put India on the path to victory, the skipper guided the side home in a tense thriller with clever nudges, pushes and half-drives. The dasher showed that he can adapt to situations. The captain handled the pressure with maturity even as wickets fell in the CB Series clash at the Adelaide Oval. India was home with five deliveries and two wickets to spare.

Dhoni guided paceman Farveez Maharoof past point for a couple and then celebrated a crucial Indian triumph. The victory gave India four crucial points, taking its tally to 12.

Astonishingly for a big-hitter, Dhoni’s unbeaten 68-ball 50 did not include a single boundary. He relied more on placements than power, head than instinct. His deputy Yuvraj Singh’s 70-ball 76 was a very different innings.

Under criticism for his increasing failures on the tour, Yuvraj put a lot of thought into how he had handled off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.

“I had seen tapes of how Gautam Gambhir (another left-hander) handled Muralitharan and learnt much from how he played,” Yuvraj revealed. He had problems against Muralitharan’s spin in the past, but in Adelaide he used his feet against the Sri Lankan. He jumped out to Murali and drove him to the long-off fence.

This said, Mahela Jayawardene missed a trick by not introducing Muralitharan straightaway after Yuvraj stepped in. By the time Murali came in, Yuvraj had already gained in confidence by slamming the pacemen off his back-foot.

The Lankans missed the moment and Yuvraj grew in confidence. The Lankans should have bowled a fuller length to Yuvraj; instead Farveez Maharoof pitched short and was punished. It was the wily Chaminda Vaas — he castled Yuvraj with a curling yorker — who showed what kind of a length should be bowled to Yuvraj.

Yuvraj was involved in partnerships with Rohit Sharma and Dhoni. Then Dhoni and Irfan Pathan brought India closer to victory.

Lasith Malinga bowled a spell that was fast, straight, and laced with swing, but Dhoni stood firm to apply the finishing touches as the Lankan fielding wilted in the final stages.

Earlier, Man of the Match Kumar Sangakkara’s well-made 155-ball 128 (12x4) was a high quality effort from a man who comprehended the art of building an innings.

This southpaw is a refined stroke-maker who puts a price on his wicket. But then, Sri Lanka’s inability to force the pace after the departure of Sangakkara proved costly for the islanders. A target of 239 was achievable on a true Adelaide Oval pitch, a ground with short square boundaries.

The Indians continued with the five-bowler formula even if it meant that Virender Sehwag had to be omitted. The tactic had its risks but paid off. The Indian attack was steady without being penetrative and Sangakkara and Jayawardene rebuilt the innings after early losses. The left-handed Sangakkara has tightened his game and reads the situations better than most batsmen.

The right-handed Mahela Jayawardene timed the ball sweetly and found the gaps. Lanka recovered from two for six to 159 for three when Jayawardene was run out backing up too far to a Sangakkara straight hit.

However, the islanders lost the plot in the end overs. Sri Lanka, with wickets in hand, should have made more runs in the last phase. “We were 15 to 20 runs short in the end,” admitted Jayawardene.

This was, indeed, the case. THE SCORES

CB Series, eighth match, India v Sri Lanka, Adelaide Oval, February 19. India won by two wickets.

Sri Lanka: T. Dilshan c Dhoni b Patel 4; S. Jayasuriya (run out) 0; K. Sangakkara c Kumar b Pathan 128; M. Jayawardene (run out) 71; C. Kapugedera (run out) 1; C. Silva c Uthappa b Harbhajan 21; F. Maharoof (not out) 3; C. Vaas (not out) 1; Extras (lb-4, w-4, nb-1) 9. Total (for six wkts., in 50 overs) 238.

Fall of wickets: 1-4, 2-6, 3-159, 4-161, 5-234, 6-235.

India bowling: Patel 9-2-38-1; I. Sharma 10-0-44-0; Pathan 10-0-44-1; Kumar 10-0-49-0; Harbhajan 10-0-54-1; Yuvraj 1-0-5-0.

India: G. Gambhir c Sangakkara b Amerasinghe 15; S. Tendulkar b Malinga 0; R. Uthappa (run out) 10; R. Sharma c Silva b Muralitharan 24; Yuvraj Singh b Vaas 76; M. Dhoni (not out) 50; I. Pathan b Amerasinghe 31; P. Kumar c Jayawardene b Amerasinghe 6; Harbhajan Singh lbw b Malinga 3; I. Sharma (not out) 0; Extras (lb-14, w-10) 24. Total (for eight wkts., in 49.1 overs) 239.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-33, 3-35, 4-99, 5-158, 6-216, 7-229, 8-236.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 10-0-27-1; Malinga 10-1-37-2; Amerasinghe 10-0-49-3; Maharoof 6.1-0-43-0; Muralitharan 10-0-44-1; Jayasuriya 2-0-14-0; Dilshan 1-0-11-0.