Sri Lanka scored an amazing come-from-behind victory in the second one-day international, beating India by five runs, in Rajkot on Sunday.
The victory gave the visitors a 1-0 lead in the four-match series, rain having ruined the first match in Kolkata.
Chasing 258 for victory, the home side looked on course at 235-5, but lost the plot completely, their last five wickets falling for just 17 runs off 27 balls.
India had the game under control till the 45th over after Sourav Ganguly (62) and Sachin Tendulkar (54) laid a solid platform in a 100-run third-wicket partnership. But with 11 runs needed from Sanath Jayasuriya's last over the advantage slipped drastically. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was dismissed off the penultimate ball and last man Sreesanth was left with the uphill task of hitting a six off the last ball to secure an improbable victory. He failed to make contact much to the delight of the Sri Lankans.
Earlier, Sangakkara's masterly 110 to help Sri Lanka recover from a top order collapse. The in-form wicketkeeper-batsman was involved with a century partnership with Tillekaratne Dilshan that revived his team from a precarious 58 for 4 to competitive 257-8 after being put in to bat.
Sri Lanka innings
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.
The point of interest, when India began its chase, was not whether India would win -- on paper, that seemed a given - but how the batsmen would fare against Lasith Malinga, a bowler who warms up with deliveries around 145k, and goes on to hit the 150k mark with fair regularity.
The brief answer is, very well indeed, at least at the outset. The bowler with the golliwog looks and a bowling action David, of lethal slingshot fame, would have envied went for 22 in his first two overs.
Ah, the commentators said, big mistake -- he doesn't like to bowl with the new ball, since it is too shiny for him to gain control given his unorthodox action.
So he was taken off, then brought back in the 11th over - and taken for 29 in his next three. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly took 8 fours off him; the former knocked him for 21 off 14; Ganguly took 18 off ten balls faced.
Each dealt with the quick in his own fashion. A screaming drive through the packed off cordon early on warned Malinga that bowling around or outside off to Ganguly was bad news. The bowler banged one in; Ganguly rocked back and played one of his patented shovel-pulls over midwicket and that pretty much was that.
Tendulkar ended the contest within a contest in the space of two deliveries in Malinga's comeback over: one ball after the quick had landed a fast yorker on Ganguly's boot, he tried a similar ball to Tendulkar at 149k, and watched as it went screaming to the square leg fence. The next ball, a touch quicker, was on length on off - and it disappeared even faster, this time to the midwicket fence; both shots involved magical use of the wrist; both were played off the front foot.
Ganguly batting was chanceless and close to fautless; Tendulkar had an early blemish when he drove Kulasekara on the up, in the 7th over, and Tillekaratne Dilshan failed to move into the catch and get low enough, quick enough, to hold (SRT 9/12; India 47/2 at the time).
From that point on, the two dominated, bringing up the 100 of the innings off just 88 deliveries and in the process, knocking the asking rate down under 4.5 rpo.
Sri Lanka was clearly missing the experience of Chaminda Vaas at the top and Mutaiah Muralitharan in the middle. Jayawardene still led brilliantly; once the ball had softened, he defended the boundaries and used the Lankan fielding skills inside the circle to perfection to slow the run rate down.
The two batsmen eased off, knocking back runs with singles and easing through the middle part of the chase. They could afford to: as the over comparison indicates - India 79/2 in 10 against Lanka 49/2; 101/2 in 15 against 59/2; and 114/2 in 20 against Lanka's 94/4 -- India had taken full charge by the 20 over mark, and merely needed to shut the game down.
The aberrations had come early. Robin Uthappa looked in ominous ease against Malinga in the first over; in the second, Fervez Maharoof made one kick off length and Uthappa, already on the front foot, had no place to hide. The batsman was trapped in no-man's land; the ball flew off the shoulder of the bat for Jayawardene, at the sole slip, to time his jump to a nicety and make a very tough catch look very easy (7/5; 14/1).
Rahul Dravid walked out at one drop and opened with a scorching square drive. Off the last ball of that same over, though, Maharoof cut him in two with a ball on length outside off that jagged sharply back to go through the gate and marginally miss off stump. With the first ball of his next over, Maharoof produced that delivery again and this time, the ball didn't miss (5/9; 29/2).
The two senior pros then took charge, taking the team into the safety zone with an unflustered assurance that spoke of the 664 ODIs worth of experience they collectively bring to the table. Tendulkar brought up his third successive 50 of the season, and 76th in ODIs, off 51 deliveries; Ganguly, who by then had clearly settled down for the long haul, got to his 64th ODI 50 off 68 balls. A ball later, the 100 of the partnership came up, off 121 deliveries.
And then, when it looked like there was only one possible result, the wheels came off.
Malinga Bandara, who had managed to rein the two batsmen in by taking the pace off the ball and bowling tight lines with no hitting margins, floated one up around off. Tendulkar danced forward, was beaten as the leg break spun past the outer edge, and Sangakkarra whipped the bails off before the batsman could recover (54/61; 129/3).
Lasith Malinga was given the ball again in the 28th over - and produced a sensational burst. The opening delivery was a nothing ball, well wide of off. Ganguly chased, looking to glide, but managed only to edge to Sangakkara (62/79; 154/4).
The very next ball was a scorching yorker that went right through Dhoni and made a mess of the stumps. The bowler was celebrating, the batsman had begun his walk back; it took a while for everyone to notice that the umpire had his hand out for the no-ball.
One ball later, a superb slower ball foxed Virender Sehwag, who nearly played it into the hands of point.
Sehwag managed, as much through luck as skill, to survive a series of yorkers from Malinga and Kulasekhara, and he seemed to be gradually finding a measure of touch when he got cute. He had earlier in the over late cut Bhandara for three, then cracked him through point for four. Off the last ball of the over, he again tried the late cut, playing the ball impossibly late; this time, all he managed was to nudge it into Sangakkarra's glove (19/23; 169/5).
At the 30 over mark, the game was up for grabs. India had made 169/5 against Sri Lanka's 137/4. Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik started shakily, but then dug deep, eschewing the big shots, focusing on quick singles and looking, through intelligent placement and some electric running, to move the board along.
The 50-run partnership came off 65 balls; significantly, there were 41 singles in those 50 runs, a testimony of how the two reconstructed the chase. At the 40 over mark, they had recovered to 213/5 (186/5 SL), and needed 45 off the last 10.
To their credit, both players kept their stroke-playing instincts in check and kept chipping away, running the Lankan fielders ragged. Just when the game seemed sealed, though, Malinga came back - and yet again, that prodigious reverse swinging yorker (he does bowl much better with the older ball) worked, trapping Karthik in front (31/49; India 235/6; still needing 23/26).
Harbhajan, fretting after being tied down by Jayasuriya, lost the plot and his head in that order. Needing merely to take one to get Dhoni back on strike, he flayed at Maharoof, sliced it high in the air and Jayawardene, running back behind the keeper, pulled off a superbly judged catch (2/7; 241/6).
Malinga then came back for his last over, and much nervous cricket on both sides later, the ask was 11 off 6, with Jayasuriya to bowl the final over. The first ball saw Kumble come back for an impossible second, and fail by a mile to make it (2/5; 248/8). The senior Lankan pro then produced magic under pressure, going wide of the crease, around the wicket, angling very full and very straight, and managed to keep Dhoni quiet for two balls in a row. A four off the fourth ball, hit flat, hard and straight, got the ask to 6 off two balls.
And then, came the catch that nailed the match. Dhoni went for the lofted shot, the ball was high in the air, Maharoof raced back from mid off with the ball falling over his shoulder, avoided a collision with mid off running around, managed to keep the ball in his sights through it all, and pulled off one of the most magnificent out field catches you've ever seen.
India needed 6 off the last ball; there was no way Sreesanth was going to get it, and Lanka sealed an amazing come from behind win by five runs.
It was a game India should have won with ease; in the final analysis, the Lankan strengths of tight bowling by their part-timers, and tigerish fielding especially in the circle, pulled an improbable rabbit out of the hat.
India will be disappointed and the selectors, who inside the next 24 hours have to pick 15 names for the WC squad, will have much to think about.