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Chamara century lifts Sri Lanka
Prem Panicker | February 17, 2007 13:41 IST
Never mind the World Cup, this one we have to win, was the thinking in both camps per the respective captains' interactions with the media the day before the final game of the four-match ODI series.
When batting first, as Sri Lanka was in Vizag after being inserted by Rahul Dravid on a wicket that had a little less juice, and a little more runs, than the Indian captain guessed, that intent translates into wanting to go hard at the ball, especially during the power plays.
And here, that resulted in a bizarre spell of play when, in the space of 28 deliveries, Lanka lost its top four batsmen for 12 runs.
Sanath Jayasuriya, in danger of being anointed Zaheer Khan's bunny, had played the left arm seamer with great care, keeping him out initially and when line and length afforded, hitting hard in an attempt to dominate.
In the 7th over, Jayasuriya had first slapped an overpitched Zaheer ball to long off, then picked one up off middle and leg in trademark fashion, taking on the man at deep square and clearing the ropes.
And then, he fell: Ajit Agarkar, who on the day had been hitting speeds in the mid 140s, sent down a well disguised slower one; Jayasuriya picked it up on the half volley and drove loose, and straight, to Sourav Ganguly at cover (22/19; 42/1).
Mahela Jayawardene started out as though he intended to whack his way out of his personal batting slump; his recent touch hasn't been good enough for such luxuries, and he paid the price when he tried to pick Agarkar up off his pads and clear long on. The shot was played too early; the batsman got under the ball and elevated it off the thick outer edge, to find Robin Uthappa at cover (7/8; 50/2).
Kumar Sangakkarra's was the most bizarre of the dismissals. Zaheer sent one down the channel, on fullish length. The batsman drove casually at it, head thrown back and balance all awry. Uthappa at cover juggled, held his nerve first and then the catch (1/2; 52/3).
Sreesanth had gotten into the XI owing to another of Munaf Patel's little niggles. He was brought in as relief for Zaheer in the 13th over, and he struck first ball, with a delivery at top pace that lifted off length and ducked back in. The batsman, who till then had been playing with poise and considerable control, looked to force off the back foot and managed only to inner edge onto his stumps (19/37; 56/4).
It took the in-form Tillekeratne Dilshan, and Chamara Silva, to dig deep and get the revival under way. The wicket was a batting beauty, the bowlers had to work hard to get fractional movement - the two batsmen, unlike their peers earlier, merely played the right lines and lengths, picked their shots with care, and when they could, hit through to get Lanka's board ticking again.
The three seamers had done a superb job under the conditions; when Harbhajan Singh came on to bowl in the 20th over, the board read 73/4; the run rate was 3.4 and Lanka was struggling.
The offie chose this moment to have an off day, repeatedly bowling too full and more often than not drifting onto the pads. Chamara Silva took to the off spinner, slapping the sweep in the 22nd over, then sweeping very fine in the 24th, waltzing down the track to loft the bowler back over his head and over the long on fence next ball, and again dancing down to loft the four over mid on as follow up.
While Bajji was attempting to correct lines and lengths at one end, Ganguly came on to bowl wicket to wicket seam up; by way of bonus, he took out the dangerous Dilshan with a fullish delivery just outside off that was held back a fraction. The batsman drove at it on the up, hit too early thanks to the step down in pace, and Uthappa at cover dived forward to hold a great catch as the ball was dropping ahead of him (28/44; 124/5).
The 68-run partnership, at a tick over 4.7 rpo, had brought Lanka back into the game; Silva by then was batting in a dream, and the in-form Russell Arnold
Sehwag took over from Ganguly (6-0-29-1), created a couple of chances in his first over with an abortive LBW shout and a top-edged sweep that just eluded Yuvraj at short fine leg, then struck in his second.
The part-timer bowls quicker, and hits the deck harder, than Bajji; Arnold looked to bludgeon him against the turn, hit too late thanks to the extra pace, and managed only to toe it up in the air for Sreesanth to hold at long on (22/35; 165/6).
That wicket, of an in form batsman in the 37th over, could have been curtains for Lanka heading into the death. Chamara Silva, however, upped his game several notches; Maharoof hung in there and played the odd big hit, and between them, ensured Lanka continued to tick the board over at some speed - the 50 of the partnership came off just 39 deliveries.
Chamara Silva was particularly impressive, playing along clean classical lines at the start of his knock and, even into the death, finding orthodox shots to play without needing too much of risky improvisation. The stroke play was dazzling, in a non-fussy sort of way, the hall mark being an awareness of the field, and the options he had at any point, to any ball, to pierce them - time and again, he moved fluidly across his crease, to create angles that he could work with magical wristwork and impeccable timing.
It was fitting that the batsman got to his first ever ODI hundred (102/105 deliveries) off the last over of the innings - the knock ranks even ahead of Sangakkarra's century earlier in the series, for the quality of play and the caliber needed to haul Sri Lanka out of jail, first, then see the side home to a sizeable score.
At the other end, Maharoof played an astonishing shovel-drive off Zaheer that powered the ball over the long on fence, but fell next ball, scooping a drive to Karthik at cover after misreading the slower ball (28/28; 229/7; partnership 64 runs at 8 rpo).
Lanka ended on 259/7, clubbing 91 runs in the last ten overs. Chamara Silva survived a let off, off the last ball of the innings, as a sliced drive went into, and out of, Yuvraj's hands at backward point.
The final score is challenging, on a wicket where the ball, especially after the shine and early hardness has worn off, stops a fraction off the deck making driving on the rise a particularly risky proposition.
Lanka have the bowling options in the middle, and the fielding skills, to defend this one; India's best hope is a rousing start that brings the total within manageable limits before the powerplays are done.
Sri Lanka in India 2007: The Complete Coverage
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