is fast shaking off the tag of being poor chasers by winning their third successive game while batting second. The fourth ODI was climaxing towards a tight finish but poor tactics by Marvan Atapattu coupled with nerveless batting by the Super Sub, Suresh Raina and steely resolve by Mahendra Singh Dhoni saw India
through. Indeed the two young batters showed remarkable temperament in gathering the runs without taking any risk. Atapattu must surely be deeply disappointed but has only himself to blame for removing Muralitharan from the attack after Murali had taken 2 quick wickets to stymie the Indian chase. By the time Murali came back to bowl the 45th
over, it was too late. Dhoni finished off the match with a couple of sixes in the 46th
over, which is fast becoming his trademark flourish to end the game.
Earlier in the day Rahul Dravid won the toss and inserted Sri Lanka into bat in an attempt to exploit the smattering of grass on the pitch and garner whatever little assistance the seamers could obtain from the morning conditions. Ajit Agarkar responded by producing an outstanding opening spell reminiscent of his best bowling in Australia. He swung the ball late and back into the left handers. He got Kumara Sangakkara with a beauty that swung back in at sharp pace rapping him on his back leg in front of leg stump and almost knocked the batsman over. He then surprised Sanath Jayasuriya with one that went away and got the edge only to see Dravid drop a sitter at slip. Jayasuriya slammed the next ball for four, but Agarkar shrugged it off and got him leg before with another one that swung back into the lefthander. Justin Langer would have been nodding his head and repeating that Agarkar is one of the most underrated bowlers in the world.
The out of form Marvan Atapattu pushed himself down the order and came in to bat only at number 5 after Upul Tharanga and Tilekaratne Dilshan. Tharanga was brought in for Mahela Jayawardene, who had to run back to Sri Lanka for his wedding. Tharanga looked good for more than his 21 before he was surprise by a quick bouncer from Shree Santh that he could only top edge down to Agarkar at fine leg. Tharanga was well balanced at the crease with shots all round the wicket, and the young left hander could well be the solution at the top of the order for Lanka. Dilshan came out to bat with an aggressive intent, and had quite a few swings and misses against Agarkar and Shree Santh before he finally middled one for four. He then began to smash everything pitched up in a counter attacking innings that Aravinda D’Silva would have been proud of.
Dilshan was especially severe on JP Yadav, driving good length balls on the up. He played some powerful shots down the ground and more than compensated for Atapattu’s slow start, allowing the captain to find his form. Atapattu soon began to time the ball and even stepped down the track and hit Harbhajan over cover for a four. That was the only time he could get him away as Bhajji bowled a brilliant spell. Harbhajan has been bowling well in this series and he was excellent today. He troubled the free flowing Dilshan and kept him quite for a couple of overs, before nailing his man with a doosra that induced a leading edge to Sachin at point. Russell Arnold the next man in really struggled to get the ball off the square and slowed down the scoring rate. He finally managed to pick it up with boundaries off Yuvraj Singh. Pathan also bore the brunt of Arnold’s strokeplay before the bowler rectified his length and produced a perfect reverse swinging yorker to clean him up. Santh who was bowling well at sharp pace seemed to have injured his calf muscle and Dravid had to use Sehwag in the end overs. But, Sehwag plucked an amazing return catch to send Atapattu back. The Lankan lower order failed as Agarkar picked up three more wickets with well directed reverse swinging balls, including the big hitting Farveez Maharoof. He cleaned up Murali in the 48th over and in the last over he ran out Zoysa with smart pick and throw with this left hand to catch him short while backing up at the non strikers end. He then got Vaas to edge one to Dhoni to bring about a quite finish to the Lankan innings and returned Man of the Match figures of 5-44. Unlike the previous game they really couldn't capitalize in the last 10 overs, with only 63 runs coming off it but 261 runs was a reasonable target.
India's run chase began with 2 maiden overs as the Lankans finally managed to bowl a stifling line and length that did not allow Sachin and Sehwag to get away. Sachin’s was lucky to top edge a good bouncer from Dilhara Fernando over the keepers head for a six. He charged down the track to Vaas and missed the ball to have his off stump knocked over. Yuvraj was sent in at number three and played a couple of lovely shots on the off side before smashing Zoysa into the hands of Dilshan at point. Dravid came in next and was in great touch with some stunning on drives wide off mid on. Meanwhile Sehwag was leading a charmed life with both Murali and Sangakkara dropping him. Sehwag and Dravid hit enough boundaries to bring the required rate below 5. Atapattu delayed using Murali during the PowerPlay overs and he was finally introduced in the 20th over and promptly claimed the wicket of Sehwag, who tamely guided a doosra to the lone slip. Marvan's tactic to hold back his best bowler till the Power Plays are over is at best a defensive move, and at worst handing the match over to the opponents. Venugopal Rao came in to play a wonderful cameo innings of 38 of 41 balls and built a 64 run partnership with Dravid. He played Murali well, reading his doosra and employing a quick sweep which fetched him many runs and a boundary. He was particularly severe on anything short outside the off stump, cutting the ball ferociously to the point boundary. Maharoof came in for some stick with Rao dispatching him for a six and 3 fours towards point. Murali came back to deceive Rao with a cleverly bowled doosra on an off stump line and Sangakkara held a fine catch. Sensing his opportunity Atapattu brought back Fernando who surprised Dravid with a quick bouncer that he top edged to fine leg, where Vaas took a fine low catch as he ran in from the boundary. Murali sent back Pathan for a duck, and India were suddenly in trouble at 180-6 in the 35th over.
Suresh Raina and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were the men at the crease, and Atapattu surprisingly took Murali out of the attack after only one more over at the new batsmen. It appeared that he was saving Murali's last 2 overs for the end, but it was really poor strategy by the Sri Lankan captain. That was the opportunity for Sri Lanka to win the game and Marvan eased off the pressure. Zoysa was brought back and Raina punched him through cover for three and off the last ball of the over smashed him straight down the ground for four. Dhoni restrained himself to singles, and cut out all the big hits, but Raina was in a very positive frame of mind and was quick to pounce on anything slightly loose. Atapattu helped India's cause by bringing Sanath Jayasuriya, Russell Arnold and Tilekaratne Dilshan into the attack. Excellent running between the wicket interspersed by the odd boundary by Raina ensured that India were always ahead of the required rate. Atapattu belatedly brought Fernando back into the attack but Raina was well set and stepped down the track and smashed him for four through the offside. Fernando came back with a fast bouncer that surprised Raina but he was quick enough to hook it down to square leg. It was a stunning shot and he rolled his bat over the ball to keep it down. It would have gone for four if not for some great fielding by Tharanga. Fernando tried another bouncer and that was also pulled away for another single. Raina got his opportunity and he grabbed it, he has all the shots and packs lot of power in them too. I have said it before and I'll say it again, he looks like a great find for India.
The next over Murali was brought back into the attack, but by now both batsmen were well set with only 24 runs required in 30 balls, and they took 8 runs of Murali’s over with excellent running between the wickets. At the end of the 45th over Raina had raced to 39 of 30 balls and Dhoni was on 29 of 39 balls with only one boundary. Dhoni changed all that in 46th over bowled by Arnold. The sequence was 2,2,6,6 and it was Game Over. Today Dhoni showed that he can play a different kind of innings as he calmly guided India to a win that was pretty comfortable in the end. The man is definitely a match winner.
4-0 in a seven match series, and Atapattu’s captaincy is probably on the line, especially if he cannot inspire his team to win at least 2 out of the next 3 matches. For a man who recently won the award for the ODI captain of the year at the ICC awards, he appears to be pretty one dimensional as a captain. He is probably used to the tried and trusted ‘strangulation’ strategy that they employ to suffocate all teams at home in Sri Lanka. That is not going to work in the 2007 World Cup, and maybe it is time to appoint Kumara Sangakkara as the captain.