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Home > Cricket > India's tour of South Africa 2006 > Report

Sangakkarra ton lifts Sri Lanka

February 11, 2007 12:39 IST


To reprise an old joke, unfortunately India had so many players unwell/injured, Rahul Dravid was forced to pick his team by default -- the ones who played were the ones who could.

Fortunately, he won the toss and got first use of a pitch with a tinge of green that had been juiced up a touch by dew and recent rains.

Unfortunately, he didn't have his best strike bowler, Zaheer Khan, to exploit the conditions.

Fortunately Munaf Patel, working his way back from injury, picked this game to really hit his straps.

Unfortunately, umpire Sunil Shastri left his radar, and his hearing equipment, back in the hut, depriving India of a couple of sure LBWs and one very audible edge.

Fortunately, Sreesanth went back to basics, figured that the way out of his recent problems was to go back to his peak pace and attack, without worrying too much about the occasional four taken off him.

See what I mean? The conditions were tailor-made for India to put in a commanding performance, but personnel problems prevented the Indians in the field from being as dominating as they could have been.

The Sri Lankan innings was broken up into two distinct, disparate halves. The first, from overs 1-15, was a period of Indian dominance.

Munaf Patel, looking nice and relaxed in his run up and delivery, for the first time since his injury layoff and ill-timed return, indicated what was to come as early as the first over, when he straightened his length and twice beat Sanath Jayasuriya outside his off stump with deliveries that squared the batsman up and left him late.

In his second over, Patel got all his ducks in a row, with a delivery angling across the left hander, hitting the very good length around off, forcing Jayasuriya forward and beating him with very late seam to find the edge to MS Dhoni (9/10; 16/1).

With Sreesanth quickly hitting speeds between the high 130s and the early 140s and bowling just back of length at the drive-happy Upul Tharanga, the Lankan southpaw had problems trying to break free. Having set his man up by forcing him onto the back foot, Sreesanth then bowled the fuller delivery; Tharanga came forward late, pushed at it and edged it through to Sachin Tendulkar at first slip (11/16; 31/2).

Marvan Atapattu was sent in ahead of Mahela Jayawardene keeping in mind the conditions and the skipper's lack of form, but it didn't really work: Atapattu was palpably LBW to Munaf before he had scored; he managed 7 before clearly edging to Dhoni and again, Munaf was desperately unlucky on the appeal.

The bowler finally got his man with the quicker delivery that slanted into off stump, then jagged back sharply to beat the tentative prod and find the pad; this time, umpire Shastri decided enough was enough and gave it to the bowler (15/24; 53/3).

Sreesanth then eded Jayawardene's brief, tortured tenure. The Lankan skipper, silken smooth when in touch, is clearly miles below par -- there was no conviction to his footwork going forward or back, the address was more tentative prodding than full-face, and a pitched up delivery lifting, and seaming fractionally, brought the batsman forward for the edge to fly to Sourav Ganguly at second slip. The fielder grabbed at it, seemed to get the ball on the thumb and Dhoni, alert behind the stumps, grabbed the rebound before it could go to ground (4/10; 58/4).

The two Indian seamers had first created, then increased, pressure to trigger the early collapse; the overs between 10-15 produced a mere 15 runs for the loss of two wickets.

Kumar Sangakkarra and Tillekeratne Dilshan settled down to consolidate, batting within themselves and looking only to score against the rank bad stuff; the overs 15-25 was pretty much a stalemate with India keeping up the pressure and the Lankan batsmen responding with calculated play.

India at this point missed a third quick, and had to try Sourav Ganguly to provide relief for Munaf while, at the other end, Sreesanth bowled his 10 overs through for returns of 2/39.

Once they had their eye set, Sangakkarra and Dilshan began stepping up their game, against the spin of Kumble and Harbhajan and the part time seam of Tendulkar; a 100-run partnership off 123 deliveries had batted Lanka back into the game.

With 164 on the board at the end of 35 and both batsmen set on a wicket that had eased off into a batting beauty, Lanka had the platform for a late push; Harbhajan, who on this track got bounce and good turn bailed his team out with a perfectly pitched doosra that hit the line of middle, brought Dilshan forward playing for the off break, and spun just enough past the outer edge to hit off (56/65; 166/5).

Sri Lanka had 187 on the board going into the slog phase; against that, they had lost five wickets; it suffered another check in the 41st, when Sachin Tendulkar bowled one very full on middle and off that Russell Arnold attempted to whip away to leg. The ball was too full for the shot; the batsman missed, was hit on the pad while perched on top of the crease, and Umpire Sunil Shastri, after giving the fielding side a mild heartburn, finally upheld the appeal (7/16; 188/6).

The first five overs of the death phase produced 26 - thanks largely to Sangakkarra, who on the day produced a superb exhibition of high quality batting under pressure. He alone looked totally comfortable against pace and spin alike, and ensured that the board kept ticking over with quality shots off either front or back foot, against pace and spin alike.

A lovely dance down the wicket to flick Tendulkar over long on in the 45th over; an effortless glide forward to thump Kumble back to the straight sightscreen in the 46th; an upper cut over point off Patel in the 47th; a slog sweep off Kumble to clear the fence over square leg and bring up his 6th ODI century, in the 48th; a smashing pull off Patel in the 49th that took a ball from outside off and smeared it over wide long on were the shots that kept the Lankans in the run-hunt.

The sole chance in an otherwise flawless innings came in the 47th when Patel, retuning for his final spell, held one back. Sangakkarra went for the drive, was foxed by the step down in pace and hit it flat and hard at the bowler, who couldn't latch on to the catch as it was flying over his right shoulder.

Patel finally got his man with a fuller delivery; Sangakkarra, looking to repeat the six he had hit off the previous ball, failed to get under the ball enough to clear the field and Sehwag, racing around from a straighter long on position, dived headlong to take a beauty (110/127; 249/7).

Off the very next ball Maharoof, who had crossed over, went after a full length delivery from Patel and managed only to pick out long on (17/26; 249/8).

Lanka ended on 257/8; a decent score on this track and a commendable effort when you consider the situation after 15 overs. Sangakkarra was the batting star, with Dilshan helping the recovery and Maharoof keeping company in a stand of 61 off 49 balls to gain some momentum.

For India, Munaf, Sreesanth and Harbhajan were the star turns with the ball with Munaf in particular producing impressive spells at the start and again at the death. Kumble was efficient in the middle over and expensive at the death (in the 48th over, a full toss at Maharoof was about as bad as it could possibly get) without being particularly penetrative.

The surprise package was Sachin Tendulkar, whose steady seam up papered over India's lack of a third seamer of quality and ensured the Lankans didn't get away in the middle over phase; he then camne back with a stream of full length deliveries to keep Lanka from breaking free in the final over of the innings.

The fielding effort was good in parts. It was interesting to see India attack with up to three slips for Sreesanth even as late as the 20th over; in the outfield, they threw themselves about and brought off some good saves; against that, the normally reliable Dinesh Karthik had a bit of an off day with two horrible lapses early on and a generally under-par performance that diluted the effectiveness of the close ring.

The target is attainable on the true pitch, more so given an outfield like a butter slide and a ground where the biggest boundary is a mere 80 meters out. The potential catch, though, is there is still good bounce in this track; the likes of Malinga, especially with the new ball, should be able to test the Indian lineup at the top.

India's tour of South Africa 2006: The Complete Coverage

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