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India lose to Sri Lanka, face exit
Prem Panicker
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March 23, 2007 21:07 IST
Last Updated: March 24, 2007 02:48 IST


India are all but out of the World Cup after losing to Sri Lanka by 69 runs in their concluding Group B match in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Friday.

Chasing 255 for victory, the 1983 champions were dismissed for 185 in

43.3 overs and finished their league engagements with a solitary victory and two defeats.

Sri Lanka, which had already qualified for the Super Eight after beating Bermuda and Bangladesh in previous matches, scored their third straight comprehensive victory.

Sri Lanka innings

When luck, in the unlikely avtaars of umpires Darryl Harper and Aleem Dar, deserted the Indians, they were forced to fall back on good, honest toil - and it paid off.

True to the tradition that no two bowlers will ever operate on song at the same time, Zaheer Khan began patchily, seemingly unable to control his swing in the steamy, humid conditions at the Queen's Park Oval and repeatedly going wide to leg; at the other end, Ajit Agarkar gave his critics - including me - pause, with a dream beginning that was an antithesis to his performance in the two earlier games.

He should have had Sanath Jayasuriya with the first ball he bowled - a delivery that swung in late, landed on middle, straightened and was heading to take out middle and leg when the pad inervened.

No, said Harper.

At the other end, Zaheer rediscovered his radar and straightened one at Jayasuriya. No, said Dar this time.

Neither Upul Tharanga, nor Jayasuriya, found any measure of comfort, either in the let offs or in their batting - Agarkar constantly beat their edges with the slant and late seam; Zaheer as often squared them up and beat the edge, or bent it back in and went through the gate.

The two Lankan openers, clearly under pressure, looked to sneak singles - and for once, the Indian fielders backed up their bowlers to the hilt. The first firm strike by Jayasuriya, in the 5th over, saw Harbhajan Singh dive headlong, stop, and shape to throw down the stumps - an act that had half the Indian fielders racing up to pat his back.

Clearly the Indians, facing an exit, had shed the lethargy; there was a buzz about them that had been missing thus far.

Jayasuriya, fresh from a century in the previous game and conscious that he is the motor force for the Lankans, did all he could - at one point standing two feet outside the crease to try and negate the early movement.

Frustration finally forced Jayasuriya, on 6 after 32 deliveries, into a wild slash at a Zaheer delivery that was just back of length, and seaming away from the left hander. The ball clipped the toe of the bat, flared high, and swirled down at Agarkar at deep third man. (6/23; 33/1).

Mahela Jayawardene came out, and was severely embarassed as Zaheer Khan, in particular, beat him repeatedly around his off stump. The play and miss became so regular that at one point, Zaheer stood at the end of his follow on, chin in hand, staring at the batsman who responded with a weak smile.

If Agarkar had set up Jayasuriya for Zaheer to reap the rewards, the situation was reversed here: Zaheer turned the Lankan captain inside out repeatedly; he sought to break free against Agarkar and flicked at a not particularly distinguished delivery on middle and leg.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, showing great anticipation, moved to leg as he saw the batsman shaping for the shot; he then flung himself headlong, to his left, to come up with the ball in his outstretched left hand. (7/20; 53/2).

India's improved fielding standards nearly created another wicket off the next ball: Kumar Sangakkara, to the first ball he faced, pushed to off and ran; Yuvraj raced in, fielding, spun, and threw, but missed by a fraction with Sangakkara inches short of the crease.

DravId, who made just the one change to his team, getting Harbhajan in for Kumble, used his seamers well early on. Agarkar was rotated out after a four over spell; Munaf came on to torment Tharanga in particular; then Agarkar was switched through to the other end to relieve Zaheer once the left armer began tiring.

Once the power plays were done, Dravid tossed the ball to Sourav Ganguly, looking to get some of the fifth bowler overs out of the way early - and in his second over, the former captain provided an unexpected bonus. Sangakkara, looking to try and get runs off the part timer, moved onto the front foot and hit straight; of all the fielders, it was Munaf Patel, wide at long on, who sprinted across and held, behind the bowler's back - an act that, perhaps more than any other, summed up the Indian efforts in the field on the day (15/35; 92/3; 39 run partnership at 3.9 rpo).

At the halfway mark, despite edges flying past fielders and umpires having an off day and various other acts of man and god, India looks to have the upper hand. The Sri Lankans, needing at least 260-270 to be fairly comfortable, have been kept to below the 100 mark after 25 overs; worse, the fall of four major wickets means the team doesn't have the luxury of unfettered strokeplay.

India has the advantage - the key question is whether it can press home, without permitting any sort of recovery in the key middle overs. Dravid could with profit change his convention-bound field placing, especially for Harbhajan: the offie has already, on four separate occasions, got the left handed Tharanga driving a touch in the air. A short cover or short mid on seems indicated, but for now, cover remains conventional, as does the rest of the field.

Overs 26 - 50

Sri Lanka, with some intelligent cricket, fought back in the second half of the match; the fightback began after the exit of Tharanga.

The opener had, to his credit, gritted it out at his end; however, at no point in his stay did he indicate he had the touch, and confidence, to parlay that long innings into a big score.

Having failed to break loose against the regular bowlers, Tharanga looked to take advantage of Tendulkar's gentle seam up. The bowler was focussing on taking the pace off, and keeping it on a tight wicket to wicket line. Tharanga walked across his stumps, trying to manufacture a shot to leg; he played too early, and was pinned in front of middle and leg (64/90; 133/4; partnership 41 at 4.6).

Tillekeratne Dilshan, who seems to reserve his best for India, and Chamara Silva then got together to knock the bowling around and accumulate without much risk. The running between wickets in this period was little short of brilliant; India contributed to the Lankan effort by having the fielders back on the rim of the circle, which meant that pretty much any time ball met bat, there was a run on.

Luck, too, aided the Lankans to a considerable degree. The last ball of the 36th over, for instance, from Zaheer Khan drew Chamara Silva forward and beat him; it found the inside edge, missed leg stump by the width of a coat of varnish, and went through to fine leg for four. The first ball of Zaheer's next over was a carbon copy - again, the ball gets the inside edge, and runs down to fine leg for four more.

Harbhajan Singh in the 40th over got Chamara Silva in front of middle and leg, when the batsman tried to sweep and was beaten; umpire Harper continued his trend of ignoring the LBW as a form of dismissal, and Chamara lived on.

By the 40 over mark, Lanka had hauled itself back into the game, and was poised for an assault that could negate the early setbacks. For India, the one plus was that the fifth bowling option -- a combination of Ganguly and Tendulkar - had more than delivered. At the 40 over mark, the two bowlers in tandem had bowled 10 overs for 45 runs and two key wickets.

With the Lankan 200 coming up in the 44th over and with Lanka now having two set batsmen at the crease and wickets in hand, including that of the big-hitting Russel Arnold, the odds swung in favor of the batting side. Chamara Silva in particular had knocked up his fourth successive half century, and was beginning to motor.

Dravid continued to try and take the pace off with Tendulkar bowling slow seam up at one end, despite having regulars he could now call upon, and Harbhajan bowling himself out at the other. As always with Tendulkar, he bowls tight, controlled spells - and then gets the ball for that one over too many, and goes for runs.

It is perhaps not sufficiently appreciated by successive captains that a non-regular, especially bowling seam up, is not really equipped to be tight for a prolonged spell - he has little practice of such extended spells in the nets.

In this case, Tendulkar's 8th over (he was going 7-0-29-1 at that point) was that one too many. Dilshan and Silva both swept him, one on either side of square leg, for fours; good running off the other deliveries resulted in the 45th over producing 11 good runs and, with 33 coming in the overs 41-45, setting the Lankans nicely up for the final slog.

Just when it looked like India was about to take a knockout blow, the game swung on its axis.

Munaf was brought back in the 46th - and struck, getting Dilshan driving at him outside the off channel that the bowler favors. One such shot off the second ball scorched its way to the extra cover boundary; an attempt to repeat, one ball later, saw Dilshan picking a delivery not quite in the slot. The extra bounce, and some late swing, combined to find the edge, and Dhoni got a regulation take (34/41; 216/5; partnership 83 at 6.22 rpo).

If that was a big blow, Zaheer took over in the 47th and with his first ball, struck an even bigger one. His first delivery was slanted across, just back of length; it lifted, it seamed, it found the edge as Silva tried a forcing drive on the rise, and Dhoni held two in two (59/68; 216/6).

Had Dravid swung into the attack, the next ball would have produced another wicket. Zaheer bent one away from the left handed Chaminda Vaas, the ball found the edge and flashed to the third man fence, through the whole where a slip should have been, to the batsman who brings up the Lankan tail.

With the less than 100 per cent fit Indians beginning to show signs of leg weariness, the Lankans again broke loose. In the 48th over, Arnold smashed Munaf through the covers twice; the two boundaries were sandwiched by a fierce straight hoist by Vaas that put the ball several rows back in the straight stands.

Zaheer compensated with a tight 49th over that yielded just six despite much frantic swinging by Arnold and Vaas. Agarkar came in for the final over, gave up a four off the first ball to fine leg, was lofted over wide long on for another four by Vaas, and Lanka ended up with 254/6 in the allotted overs. The 38-run 7th wicket partnership, off 22 deliveries, rescued the Lankans just when it looked like the two back to back wickets might trip the batting side up.

At the start, with Jayasuriya leading the Lankan batting, the Indians would have been happy to restrict the Lankans to around 260. Having however taken the let handed powerhouse out early and cheap, and also knocked over the likes of Jayawardene and Sangakkara, India should have been looking at a far lower total to chase.

In its favor, you could point to three distinct wickets that were not given, but you would need to say that the team's overall lack of fitness, which manifests in a lessening of the intensity as the match wears on, also played a major role in the Lankan escape.

The target is just tantalizing enough to open up both possibilities. A great opening, and this target could shrink to manageable proportions; a wicket or two early to the seam of Vaas and the pace of Malinga, and the pressure of a must-do situation could become crushing.

In passing, Rahul Dravid is due to surrender a chunk of his match fees for slow over rate. If the team wins, maybe he won't mind too much.

Sri Lanka progression:

5 overs: 19/0 (Upul Tharanga 6/15; Sanath Jayasuriya 3/15; ZK: 3-0-9-0; Agarkar: 2-1-2-0

10 overs: 44/1 (Tharanga: 21/27; Mahela Jayawardene 1/11)

15 overs: 60/2 (Tharanga: 24/36; Kumar Sangakkara: 5/12)

20 overs: 78/2 (Tharanga 35/54; Sangakkara: 15/30).

25 overs: 96/3 (Tharanga 46/68; Chamara Silva 3/5)

30 overs: 124/3 (Tharanga 59/81; Chamara Silva 16/22)

35 overs: 147/4 (Silva 25/36; Tillekeratne Dilshan 6/8)

40 overs: 179/4 (Silva: 41/50; Dilshan: 21/24)

45 overs: 212/4 (Silva 59/67; Dilshan 34/37).

50 overs: 254/4 (Arnold 19/13 not out; Vaas 19/12 not out)

India innings

In going into the key game one regular bowler short, Rahul Dravid was pinning his faith on the batting - as always.

India opened with Robin Uthappa and Sourav Ganguly and from the way he played, it appeared as though he was out there with some instructions: see what the pitch is like, then cut loose.

Like any junior player anxious to cement his place, the right hander followed that prescription to a T: he batted within himself, and took 10 deliveries - including a maiden over off Vaas -- to get a sighter, then began with a pushed single off Chaminda Vaas.

Having crossed, he then broke loose, first punching Lasith Malinga through the covers. But it was Vaas he really took a fancy to. In the fifth over, he climbed into the bowler, first coming forward to a ball back of length, and scorching it through mid off. He then rocked forward to a length ball, and slammed it over the bowler and through to the straight fence.

He again slammed a hit in the 7th over, and found the fielder. Slammed again, mishit, and got two. He then came forward to a slightly short delivery, took it on the rise and hit a rocket. The replays of what followed were astonishing: you saw Vaas pull his midriff in, almost protectively; having cleared room, he got two hands behind the rocketing ball and held on, easy as you like. Uthappa's baseball-style hitting off his bowling appeared to have gotten under the left armer's skin - he shrugged off the celebrations of his team mates, and sent the batsman off with a mouthful.

At the other end, Sourav Ganguly had begun with a punch through point for a brace, followed by a trademark short arm pull for another brace, off Malinga. Jayawardene choked him down with a tight off cordon - a point up close, an extra cover up close, with a cover point, a regular cover and a mid off to back up the closer fielders.

Unable to get the ball away, prevented by the quicksilver Lankan fielders from turning the strike over, Ganguly came down the track looking to loft Vaas, and mishit along the ground to the fielder. Kumar Sangakkara promptly came up to the stumps; Ganguly stayed back, and teed off anyway.

The ball went in a nice parabola that should have cleared mid off - only, Muthaiah Muralitharan, who had earlier almost brought off a miraculous take off Uthappa, spun around, raced away with the ball following him, and when he realized it was falling well in front of him, stuck both his out in a lunge on the dead run and hung on - a catch best seen, not described (7/22; 43/2).

Sachin Tendulkar walked in and, three balls later, out again. The ball from Dilhara Fernando was fullish in length, drawing the batsman onto the front foot. The bowler had used his height and bullish build to optimum - the ball kicked, it seamed, it found the inner edge of the defensive bat and crashed into the stumps (0/3; 43/3).

From then on, it was all about Sehwag. For quite a few games, the other batsmen had carried Sehwag; apparently it was now his turn to return the favor. An immaculate extra cover on the rise off the front foot, to the bowling of Vaas in the 11th over, signalled that the three wickets hadn't bothered him much. In the 13th, he got all his batting levers working to optimum, the front foot gliding forward, the arms extending to get under the ball, and the shoulder providing the power that lofted the ball high into the stands behind the bowler. Muralitharan came on in the 17th, sent down a handful of off breaks, then tried the doosra - and was promptly back cut, by Sehwag, to the point fence. Seeing that the ball was still coming on nicely, Jayawardene promptly took the offie off, and got Malinga back on.

Fernando started the 18th with a ball well wide of off; Sehwag couldn't resist the slash. Sangakkara went flying, got a hand to it at full stretch, but couldn't cling on (Sehwag 39/33 at the time).

Jayawardene's gameplan clearly revolved around keeping the batsmen from settling: one over of Malinga that the two batsmen handled with ease, and back came Murali, this time going round the wicket, looking to angle it across, straighten the doosra and get Dravid plumb. The batsman tried to counter with a fierce pull, overhit the ball, saw it balloon off his pads - luckily for him, in front of the wicket, eluding a desperate diving grab by the keeper.

At the other end, Jayasuriya came on for Fernando, the field was pulled in to save runs, and the choke was on.

For once, Sehwag's wicket was against the run of play; he was beginning to look at his most comfortable, to pace and spin alike. Murali stayed around the wicket, floated one up on off, and made it go with the arm. Sehwag pushed, playing for the off break; the ball `went' the other way, took the edge and Jayawardene, at slip, made a very sharp catch - made more difficult by the fact that he couldn't see the edge happen, as he was unsighted by the keeper -- look extremely easy (48/46; 98/4; partnership 54 at 4.76).

The most interesting thing about the dismissal was Murali's craft: where the likes of Harbhajan are reluctant to change the angle and go round the wicket to left-handers, Murali spotted that his natural line was being played with eae, promptly went around the wicket, and posed an entirely new set of problems that almost did for Dravid, and cut Sehwag off at the knees.

Thus far, the traditional Lankan strength in the field has come to the aid of the bowlers, on a wicket where there is very little on offer, for spin and seam alike. As the ball gets softer and begins to `come on' a lot less, the spinners should be able to keep it even tighter - and the close-fielding net the Lankans spread to such effect will make the climb that much steeper.

India's best - only - hope, at this point, lies in Dravid and Yuvraj batting through to around the 35-38 over mark, even if they only go at around 4 an over or a tick above. If the bowlers are kept at bay till that point, the pressure will switch to the fielding side in the slog. Lose another one in the next four, five overs, and you might as well put in a hurry call for tickets home on the next available flight.

Overs 26 - 43.3


You keep going back to that one key ingredient - the one we thought, when we left for the Caribbean, was not that crucial; the one department we thought we could make up by `the batsmen getting 30-40 runs extra'.

No you cannot; not with all the `experience' in the world. Correction - maybe you can, against the lesser teams, but not against the top sides in the world.

The contrast between the Indians in the field - so slow that singles were on offer to fielders inside the circle, and twos were being stolen to the throws - and the Sri Lankans was in stark relief throughout the Indian chase.

Three wickets had already fallen, in the first half of the game, to amazing catches (when the Indians fielded, at least three outfield catches were not even attempted); the ground fielding had strangled the batsmen and driven the ask up above the 6 runs an over mark at the halfway mark - and there was more to come.

Yuvraj Singh, the in form batsman, called and ran as Dravid worked one off his pads to short fine leg. He was right to call and run - firstly, it was his call; secondly, it was imperative to get the singles going, since the fall of wickets had made the big hits impossible at this point.

Dravid, novice-like, took a couple of steps down the track, then turned to see where the ball was, then decided ah hell, no, I ain't running. By then, Yuvraj was in hand-shaking distance; Russel Arnold raced in, fielded, and threw to the bowler, who did the rest (6/12; 112/5).

Dhoni came out, and took guard. Murali, still around the wicket, speared one in on a very full, yorker length. It landed on middle, it hurried through with the top spin, and Dhoni, backing to cut, was nailed so plumb, low down on the pad in front of middle, that he walked without waiting for the umpire (0/1; 112/6).

Ajit Agarkar put his head down, and gave Dravid some support. The partnership was worth 24 runs, when Agarkar decided Malinga had to go. A wild heave at a wide one outside off had Dravid coming down the track for a chat; three balls later, the batsman went for a loft at a fullish delivery, and hold out to Arnold at mid on (10/25; 138/7).

Dravid, who had pulled up with cramp towards the end of the Lankan innings, began cramping up again. Uthappa, who didn't have much running to do on his own account, came out to be his skipper's legs. Dravid decided not to bother - he twice worked fours off Malinga to third man, then flicked him square for a third consequtive four to bring up his 50, and celebrated by cracking the bowler square through point for a fourth boundary on the run.

At the other end, Jayasuriya came on. Dravid swept, top-edged, and was - shock, horror - dropped by Russel Arnold at short fine. He danced down to the next ball, and lofted the drive - this time in the direction of Muralitharan at long off, who was in no mood to make mistakes (60/82; India 159/8).

Zaheer Khan went in the opposite direction, off Murali - and Malinga held, with ease, at long on (1/5; 161/9).

India are effectively out of the Super Eights - unless Bermuda `manages' to defeat Bangladesh, and India edges ahead on superior run rate. Stranger things have happened and will probably happen again - but it will still be a travesty if that happened, though.

Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel decided that they would have a go, and show up their betters while they were about it. Patel carved a Murali doosra past point for four; at the other end, Bajji swung Fernando through midwicket for four, then stood tall and hoisted him high over long off for a huge six. Dilhara wasn't watching - as soon as he delivered that ball, he was down on the ground; cramp had claimed another victim, this time a bowler who got in only because Maharoof had done his ankle.

There was one final, ironic twist: Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel squared up to Murali and played him as their seniors hadn't: off the front foot, hitting through the line or defending with bat and pad close together. Munaf even, at one point, felt confident enough of his reading to pick the doosra, let it go past him, and cut it off the side of off down to third man for a couple.

The innings ended when Patel swung Dilshan around, and was caught on the line at midwicket - fittingly, a great running catch by Chaminda Vaas, to cap what was an impeccable performance in the field by the Lankans (185 all out; Sri Lanka win by 69 runs). To cap it, India had failed to even bat out the overs - for the second time in three games.

What stands out, in the midst of the shambles, is this: India, having banked heavily on its batting strength, lost with the bat, after the bowlers had put them in the game. And they lost, on a pitch that is one of the best for batting we have seen thus far in this Cup - the wicket gave the bowlers nothing, not pace, not spin.

We've learnt this lesson before, we've been taught it again: bowlers win you games. Seven batsmen won't do what six didn't, a fifth bowler however could help reduce the amount of runs the six batsmen have to get. The lesson has been ignored before, it will be again - because batsmen are the `brands', so with us, it will remain about the batting.

As Boris Becker once famously said, no one died. A team - our team - lost, because it did not deserve to win. Now to settle down, and watch some good cricket, beginning with a crackerjack game between Australia and South Africa tomorrow.

India progression

5 overs: 18/0 (Robin Uthappa 14/18; Sourav Ganguly 4/9)

10 overs: 42/1 (Ganguly 7/19; Virender Sehwag 15/14)

15 overs: 65/3 (Sehwag 32/28; Rahul Dravid 5/9)

20 overs: 89/3 (Sehwag 4539; Dravid 14/28)

25 overs: 105/4 (Dravid 21/46; Yuvraj Singh 3/5)

30 overs: 121/6 (Dravid 28/60; Agarkar 6/8)

35 overs: 138/7 (Dravid 40/72; Harbhajan 1/1)

40 overs: 161/9 (Patel 0/6; Harbhajan 3/10).

The Cup: Complete Coverage

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