From a great position at 186-2 in 35 overs, India
collapsed like dominos with ridiculous run outs being the order of the day. One can say that India
truly compete with South Africa
for the ultimate choker tag. Sehwag’s blazing knock at the top along with a calm and collected partnership from Dravid and Yuvraj brought India
close to an elusive victory in a Final before Sri Lanka
asserted their supremacy in home conditions.
In the afternoon Dravid’s luck with the toss ran out, as Atapattu won the toss and elected to bat. Zaheer’s nerves were shot for the big final and his opening spell reminded one of the World Cup final in Jo’berg. He couldn’t control the swing and bowled 3 wides and a noball in his first over. Jayasuriya was in great touch and stroked the ball beautifully, including a stunning swivel pull off Pathan. Atapattu was also middling every ball and Sri Lanka were motoring along at six an over. Zaheer’s nervy opening spell forced Dravid’s hand, and Nehra was brought in early. He cleaned up Attapatu with a beauty, the ball shaped into the right hander and as Marvan played for the swing, it pitched and moved away off the seam. It would have been too good for most right handers and Atapattu was no exception.
‘Loco’ Loku was sent in as a pinch hitter and he smacked a couple of boundaries before Nehra pleaded a leg before from the umpire even though the ball may have pitched just outside leg stump. India’s catching and fielding was shoddy, with Dhoni showing that he is a batsman first and keeper third. He dropped Jayasuriya off Pathan and in fact parried the ball onto Sehwag’s jaw at first slip. It definitely didn’t shake Sehwag out of his stupor at first slip, as he gave Sanath another life at slip and this time Zaheer was the bowler to suffer. Sehwag was moved out of the slips to short point and finally caught one smashed straight to him by Sangakkara. Nehra was the strike bowler again and he had taken three wickets in the first 15 overs.
With everybody clamoring for five bowlers and Dravid also admitting that the fifth bowler was proving costly for India, Laxman was dropped and India played five front line bowlers including both the spinners in the team. But with today’s display Kumble would have pretty much stifled the call for five bowlers. He couldn’t get his line right and kept drifting down the leg side as Jayasuirya swept him repeatedly to the boundary. It appears as if Jayasuriya has a mental edge over Kumble and dispatched him for three boundaries in his second over. Mahela Jayawardene started very slowly but Jayasuriya picked up the slack and biffed boundaries with relative ease. The heat and humidity of Colombo claimed him, as he was run out while coming back for the second by a great throw from Harbhajan at fine leg.
Russel Arnold was promoted over Dilshan to continue the left and right handed batting combination and this really affected the Indian bowler’s line. The spinners failed for India as neither were able to pick up a wicket and Kumble proved to be very expensive. Dravid had to bring on Sehwag to try and stem the flow of runs, but he couldn’t either. Arnold was in great form and was scoring at a run a ball easily and reached his half century with a mere three boundaries. Like in the previous league match between the two countries, this eased the pressure of Jayawardene who finally managed to up his strike rate from 50% to 80% by the end of his innings.
For India there was only one bowler, Ashish Nehra, who was performing as he took six wickets. His figures were ruined in the end as he was clattered for 13 runs in the last over. India required 282 for a win, and everybody knew that it was going to be a tough chase. Nobody was prepared for the Sehwag assault.
Sehwag had walked out with a mission. Vaas started off with a maiden to Ganguly. In Maharoof’s first over Sehwag smashed the ball through covers for a four. He missed a couple of cut shots which were too close to his body. His balance at the crease was good and he looked like he was back to his best. In the next Maharoof over he smashed 15 runs, as the ball was landing in his hitting zone outside the off stump and he brutalized it through and over the covers. Atapattu brought Lokuhettige to replace Maharoof in the sixth over and it was carnage. Sangakkara was standing upto the stumps to prevent Sehwag from stepping out, and it didn’t matter as he smashed the first ball, a short one, from the crease, over cover. The next one was a genuine edge and it raced away to the thirdman boundary for another four. Sangakkara went back to his normal position, to give himself a chance at catching the edge. The next ball Sehwag danced down the wicket and hit Loku over his head for a phenomenal six. Sangakkara came back upto the stumps, but it was no matter as the next three balls went for three more fours, with two of them being one bounce and over the ropes. The sequence was 4,4,6,4,4,4. Poor Lokuhettige didn’t know what hit him, and one felt sympathy for him as the camera panned over to him standing on the boundary at the end of the over, his hands were on his head and his mouth was open.
Vaas coming back after a hamstring injury never bowled a loose ball and cramped Sehwag for room as he tried to cut, and he chopped the ball onto his stumps. But, Sehwag had set the platform and India were 62-1 in the seventh over. Ganguly and Dravid played sensibly continuing to score boundaries at regular intervals to make sure India were 99-1 at the end of 15 overs. Ganguly was dismissed leg before by Dilshan in the 16th over. Dravid and Yuvraj both played fantastically well, with Yuvraj surprising everyone with his excellent handling of Murali. Both batsmen swept him on length to keep the score ticking along. They added 84 runs in 20 overs to take India to a commanding position of 186-2 in 35 overs. Atapattu was panicking and setting defensive fields as the partnership kept building. Good fortune rather than anything the bowler conjured resulted in Yuvraj being dismissed off a top edged sweep off Chandana and the momentum swung back to Lanka.
Dravid and Kaif were beginning to build another partnership with Dravid begining to open out before a silly run out sent him back. Chandana soon deceived Dhoni with a flipper that caught him plumb in front, and after that it was frustration and desperation that sent one batsmen after another back to the pavilion. The most comical dismissal was Harbhajan’s run out where he kept running after playing his shot, not bothering to listen to Kaif at the other end. It was a disaster. The required rate soon reached 12 runs an over and Kaif was dismissed trying to slog Vaas and India whimpered to the finish.
The success of Sri Lanka’s spinners further exposed the failure of two of India’s world class spinners, Kumble and Harbhajan. They bowled 20 overs between them for 104 runs and no wickets to show for their efforts.
Through out this series and in the previous season, Indian batsmen’s failure to handle spinners including part time offies has to be one of the biggest concerns for Greg Chappell and the selectors. Another area of concern is the lack of progress of Zaheer Khan. Pathan had a decent tournament except for the final and Nehra has been consistent in all games and was the highest wicket taker in the series. The fielding has never been outstanding and India saved it's worst display for the final. Maybe it is time to pick only athletic players for the one day internationals. Chappell has more questions than answers and continued lack of success from team India will have people baying for his blood.