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Zaheer restricts Lanka to 230
Prem Panicker | February 14, 2007 13:25 IST
Mahela Jayawardene has in the 32 games (21 wins, 8 defeats) he has led Sri Lanka in won the toss on 11 occasions.
On 8 of those occasions, he has opted to field first (won 7, lost 1); that marked preference for setting the target comes from his belief that if his batsmen can put the runs on the board, he has the bowling resources and the cutting edge fielding to put pressure on the chasing side.
No real surprise, therefore, that he chose first strike at the Nehru Stadium in Goa -- though play was delayed by half an hour thanks to recent rains, though there was a smattering of grass on the track and more than a hint of early dew promising help for the seamers.
Having made his decision, the Lankan captain had plenty of time to rue it: he walked in to bat when the innings was only 13 balls old, and he stood at one end while it imploded around him.
The first ball Zaheer Khan bowled this morning was indicative of what was to come: it was perfectly pitched, on length drawing Jayasuriya forward, then beating him with very late away movement and lift.
The ball that finally did for the mercurial Lankan opener was a bouncer, but the deliveries that set up the wicket were the polar opposites: on very good length, drawing the batsman forward with bat in front of body searching, as he is wont to do to that length, and repeatedly beating him around that off.
Having set his man up, Zaheer surprised him with a sudden short ball that grew big on Jayasuriya as he tried to pull; the seam wobbled a bit as well, to find the top edge. Sourav Ganguly, at square leg, had a tough ask: he had to run backwards, dodging the umpire while keeping an eye on the ball dropping over his shoulders. He did all of that, and timed his lunging dive forward to a nicety to hold a brilliant catch (2/7; Lanka 5/1).
Two deliveries later, Zaheer struck again. This time, it was his more preferred mode of dismissal - the full length delivery just outside off, jagging back sharply after having made one go the other way earlier. Upul Tharanga came half cock, unsure what the ball was going to do, and was pinned in front of his stumps (1/8; 5/2).
An over later, the hero of Nagpur was walking back, and it was Zaheer again. This time, the ball was released soft, taking the pace and bounce off; it was on length around off jagging in and Kumar Sangakkarra, on the front foot looking to play on the rise, over-estimated the bounce, got the ball on the toe of the bat and played it on (0/4; 6/3).
Jayawardene was tentative, as befits a batsman not in the best of touch. A day before the Lankan committee picked its WC squad, he had told the media that he thought if he was omitted from the team, it would be a fair reflection of current form. In England in June last year, he had plundered two authoritative centuries on the trot; since then, he has gone 15 games without a half century to show, and the sum total of runs scored in his last 5 innings equals 9.
Here, he batted well within himself, leaving the normally staid Marvan Atapattu to carry the onus of keeping the board ticking. The way the partnership was built is epitomized in the breakup of their 50-run partnership (77 balls): Atapattu scored 36 in 42; Jayawardene's contribution was 17/41.
Munaf Patel had given Atapattu some problems with his impeccable line through the channel, and even found the edge with a perfectly pitched off cutter only for Dhoni to stand rooted as the ball flashed past his right hand. The let off didn't prove expensive, though: in his next over, Munaf pitched another one in the corridor but brought it in this time; Atapattu looked to flick, the extra movement got the inner part of the bat at Tendulkar, at midwicket, dived sideways and forwards to produce a great catch (42/62; 82/4).
The partnership had yielded 76 runs and was looking to bail Lanka out, when it was broken. The wicket produced another: Jayawardene had greeted Harbhajan with a sweep over square leg, he played the shot again to a nicety in the 24th over, this time all along the ground. Bajji compensated by bowling the fuller length and adjusting his line to outside off; the batsman was caught in two minds, coming forward then going back and, in the process, losing the ball to be pinned on the pads in front of off and middle (30/58; 91/5).
Tillekeratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold got together for the most authoritative partnership of the innings; their pairing coincided with India's use of its part-timers and, with the bowling losing its cutting edge and the wicket having been burnt of dew by the blazing sun, the partnership flourished with a mix of intelligent hitting and some good tip-and-run play.
Lanka, 7/3 in 5 overs; 30/3 in 10; 71/3 in 20 and 94/5 in 25, recovered gradually to head into the death on 173/5, with the 6th-wicket pair adding 83 runs at an impressive 5.08 at that point.
Just when it looked like the two could power Lanka to a really impressive total, Dilshan fell. Harbhajan had taken over from Tendulkar, and Dilshan, looking to rock back and force the bowler square, managed only to under edge a straight ball into Dhoni's gloves (42/54; 180/6; partnership 89 at 4.94).
Zaheer, coming back in the 44th over, took out the big-hitting Maharoof with a yorker on length that the batsman tried to scoop over the in-field. Agarkar ran in from a deeper position at mid on, dived forward, and pulled off a very good catch (14/12; 196/7).
Russell Arnold got to his battling 50 with an edge off Munaf that Dhoni, again, couldn't get a glove to (on the day, the Indian keeper seemed a tad slow; both let offs involving him were cases of late reaction). In the very next over, Zaheer Khan combined with umpire Sunil Shastry to take out Malinga Bhandara - the in-cutter hit the batsman bang in front of middle, but the ball had pitched so far outside leg stump there was no way it should have been given (2/7; 205/8). The wicket gave Zaheer his first five wicket haul in ODIs, and bettered his previous best of 4/16 against Bangladesh, all the way back in 2003. The fifth wicket may not have been fully deserved, but overall, it was an impressive spell, characterized by superb control and when he needed it, good pace touching the 142k mark.
In the 48th over, Kulasekhara tamely patted a slower delivery on length back to the bowler - who made a meal of a regular return catch.
Arnold powered his team to a fighting total of 230/8, banging Agarkar for two fours in the final over and remaining not out on an impressive 66/83.
For a team that reached 100 only in the 27th over, with half the side back in the hut, it constituted a great recovery. In fact, when you consider this was done without contributions from Jayasuriya, Tharanga and Sangakkarra, it was a brilliant effort.
It also constituted a worry for India: this is the second time in two games it has allowed the opposition to get away after making early, lethal inroads.
The evidence clearly argues for a fifth regular bowling option. Noticeably, the regular bowlers kept taking wickets; it was the non-regulars that allowed the pressure to ease in the middle phase, and that can be doubly dangerous if the batting team had been playing off a sound platform.
The Indian bowling attack was tight and focused. The one oddity was the choice of Agarkar, not Munaf, as Zaheer's new ball partner. For one thing, Agarkar is just coming off a flu; for another, Munaf with his impeccable line and ability to extract bounce through the off channel is the more attacking option while Agarkar, in his first spell, was wayward, bowling both sides of the wicket and not really testing the batsmen.
The fielding had its fair share of fumbles: Dhoni was slow to react to an Atapattu edge off Munaf; Agarkar at backward square leg was equally slow to react to an uppish sweep by Arnold off Bajji, early in the left hander's innings, that ended up going to ground; there were the usual quota of mistimed dives and shambolic stops in the outfield. Overall, though, it was a far tighter effort than in recent times, though the room for improvement remains the biggest room in the house.
The captaincy, too, could do with some improvement. The other day, Javagal Srinath - statemate and good friend to the current captain - was unambiguous when he said 'Dravid is not a bowling captain'.
Here, as in earlier games, the captain took the pedal off, teaming two part timers together in the middle overs when, with five batsmen gone and the knowledge that one more wicket would nail SL to the mast, the more sensible ploy would have been to use his regular bowlers to attack at least at one end, if not both. That phase of play ultimately proved crucial, aiding the Lankan recovery.
His positioning of slips is another oddity: there seems to be a marked preference for swinging the slip wide, and repeatedly, that ploy has resulted in catches splitting the difference between the keeper and the wide slip. Against that, there is no occasion I can remember in recent times when the catch actually went to that wide fielder, so you are tempted to ask, why?
The final target is interesting: not unattainable, but big enough to create problems especially if India has the odd wobble at the top of the order. And it really sets things up for Virender Sehwag to come good: the pressure is off, now that he knows he is part of the WC squad; the conditions are good for batting, and all things considered, the scenario is perfect for him to rediscover form and touch.
Will he? Watch this space. And while the Indian innings is on, interact live here, with other cricket fans.
Sri Lanka in India 2007: The Complete Coverage
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