India vs Sri Lanka, Jaipur, October 31, 2005

The Dhoni Blitzkrieg

Mahendra Singh Dhoni launched an incredible assault on the Sri Lankan bowling which they will never forget for the rest of their lives. He pulverized them with ten sixes, all of them sailing well over the boundary. Astoundingly enough he didn’t throw his wicket away even when he was suffering from cramps but was unbeaten at the end and finished the match by depositing the ball into the midwicket stand as a final flourish. Anyone who had seen his breakout innings against Pakistan would have known that this lad has a special talent for striking the ball, but this display was something else. The ball was struck in a projectile arc into the air like it was an artillery shell being fired. There was never any doubt that it would clear the boundary. The Sri Lankan’s subjected to such continual exposure to the shell-fire were in danger of developing symptoms of shell-shock like giddiness, headache and even mental breakdowns. 183 runs of 145 balls with 10 sixes and 15 fours!!

Earlier Sri Lanka recovered from an average start to post a huge score of 298, thanks to a wonderful 151 run partnership between Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. For the third time in the series Sanath Jayasuirya failed to get away and dragged Ajit Agarkar onto his stumps. It was a well deserved wicket for Agarkar who had come up with a tight opening spell. It was Mahela who stepped up the scoring rate with Sangakkara after Marvan Atapattu had slowed it to a crawl in an attempt to find some form. JP Yadav picked up Atapattu's wicket as Dhoni held an excellent catch standing up to the stumps. Mahela settled in quickly and played with refreshing freedom. He was watchful against a miserly Harbhajan Singh but tore into Murali Karthik, repeatedly stepping out and hitting him inside out over cover. The Lankan plan was for one of the top three to play a big innings and Sangakkara was the one who put up his hand. He was wristy and light on his feet against Karthik. He initially played second fiddle to Mahela and his 50 came up in 79 balls with only 5 fours but he increased the tempo quickly with his second fifty coming up in only 44 balls. It was Sangakkara who took the initiative after Mahela’s dismissal - he slashed a short ball from Agarkar down to thirdman, where Sehwag took his second sharp catch in as many matches. India fought back with the quick wicket of Dilshan, but wilted in the last 10 overs as Farveez Maharoof was sent up the order and smashed all bowlers for a rapid fire 33 in only 18 balls. One of his shots was a stunning tennis forehand of an Agarkar short ball outside off stump that flew flat over the bowlers head to the sightscreen. Pathan just couldn’t get his full length in the end overs, and Maharoof repeatedly smashed his good length balls to the midwicket boundary. Sangakkara finished the 50th over with a boundary and was unbeaten on 138 of 147 balls. It was a remarkable performance by the Lankan wicket keeper showing just how wrong the World XI selectors were in leaving him out of the Super Test. He is definitely the number 2 wicket keeper batsman in the world, and is arguably a better keeper than Adam Gilchrist.

On most occasions Sangakkara’s effort would have been a match winning one, but today was Dhoni’s day. The Lankans would have been very confident of a win after Tendulkar chased a wide one from Vaas in the very first over, only for Sangakkara to come up with a brilliant diving catch. Dhoni was sent in at number three, and he started the proceedings with a six over cover off a slightly wide delivery from Vaas. It was an astonishing shot, but he repeated it again in Vaas' next over to prove that it was no fluke. When he launched into the replacement bowler, Maharoof, for another six, straight back over his head, one began to sense that something special was happening. He had hit 3 sixes in his first 15 balls. He disturbed his copy book with a pulled four of Fernando, before he launched him for another six. Four sixes and one four and he was only on 32! Sehwag acknowledged the Dhoni impact and began to take singles to give Dhoni the strike. Attapatu was in a quandary as to when to use the second and third power play. He didn’t use it after the first 10 overs, as he brought Murali and Chandana in to try and get a break through. It wasn’t working as Dhoni started collecting fours and singles. Finally Murali struck in the 15th over, removing Sehwag when his sweep missed the well flighted doosra and he was declared leg before.

Dravid was in next and scored at a brisk rate as Attapatu employed the 2nd power play from the 17-21st over. Dravid was telling Dhoni to use the power plays well, but he needn’t have because Dhoni with a powerful sweep of Chandana, was still clearing the boundary. Dhoni and Dravid added 86 runs in 12 overs in which Dravid's contribution was only 28. Dhoni reached his 100 off 85 balls and celebrated by cocking his bat like a rifle and firing it into the Indian dressing room. The assault continued and the third power play was delayed until Dravid was dismissed off a return catch as he tried to work Murali’s doosra to the onside. Yuvraj came in to see Dhoni enjoying the field restriction for another 5 overs, but quickly applied himself to the task. He made a brisk 18 before he was bowled as he lazily played back to an off break from Dilshan without moving his front foot.

Venugopal Rao finally got his first bat in the series and came out to face the last over off Murali. He managed to read and safely negotiate a couple of doosras. By this time Sehwag was running for Dhoni as he had cramped up a quite a bit and his movements were restricted. Dhoni reined himself in with a few singles as he took a breather. Rao was tied down by some tight bowling from Maharoof before he danced down the track and smote Dilshan for a six. He then square drove Maharoof for a four but the bowler came back well by going past his outside edge a couple of times.Atapattu brought Chandana back into the attack to further ruin his bowling figures, and Dhoni obliged by deciding to end the match in a hurry with sixes number 8 and 9 in that over. Venugopal Rao got strike in the next over with only 2 runs required for the win, and Sehwag had a quiet word with Rao probably telling him to ease up so that Dhoni can finish off the match. Rao let a few balls from Maharoof sail past outside off stump and Dhoni promptly finished the match in the next over with his 10th six of the match off a hapless Tilekaratne Dilshan.

The entire Indian team came out to congratulate Dhoni for his stupendous innings. The Rajastan Cricket Association was so enamored by Dhoni’s knock that they decided to give him a cheque for Rs. 10 lakhs in addition to the man of the match award. As Dravid said in his post match comments, it was a privilege to see Dhoni bat.

3-0 in a 7 match series, the vice is tightening around Sri Lanka.


India vs Sri Lanka, Mohali, October 28, 2005

India dominated Sri Lanka for the second successive game and it looked as if the Lankans were still in bit of a shock after the massacre in the opening game. Second time around they managed only a dismal 122 runs in less than 36 overs and the Indians romped home by 8 wickets in the 21st over. Sri Lanka appear to have been caught unprepared for this kind of assault from a team that they had only recently beaten three times in a row. India really has pummeled Sri Lanka into a corner and is poised to deliver the knockout punch. It only remains to be seen if the battered Lankans can pick themselves up.

Mohali is a really beautiful modern stadium and Atapattu wouldn’t really have had a problem with losing the toss and being asked to bat first on a pitch that looked full of runs. But, it became an ugly setting for him in the very first over as Pathan swung the ball wide and Jayasuriya chased it right down the throat of Sehwag at thirdman. The new opening partnership had failed and Marvan had to walk out to join Kumara Sangakkara. Agarkar followed up with a maiden in the second over and the pressure was on. Sangakkara tried to take the intiative with a few boundaries, but Atapattu fell to an injudicious drive at a slower outswinger from Agarkar. With both new ball bowlers swinging the ball, Jayawardene and Sangakkara tried to counter attack, but failed with poor choice of strokes. Jayawardene flicked Pathan to square leg and Sangakkara tried an ugly stand deliver pull shot to a ball that wasn’t short enough and the ball ended up in mid on's hands. In between Pathan was on a hatrick as Tilekaratne Dilshan stuck his front foot down the pitch right in line with middle stump and a perfect in swinger. Half the side was gone before the first 15 overs were up, and Irfan Pathan had Man of the Match figures of 4-37.

Russell Arnold was outfoxed by Harbhajan’s over the wicket line and the pressure was maintained by the wicket to wicket line of JP Yadav, who also managed to take 2 wickets in 2 balls. Murali Karthik was miserly in his five overs and the runs were cut down to a trickle. Upul Chandana was super subbed in as a batsman to boost the score, but it was to no avail as the tail collapsed and only Murali provided some entertainment at the end. 122 was a terrible score, and the only thing the Lankans could try and do was to regain some pride by taking a few wickets.

Unfortunately that wasn’t to be as the Sachin-Sehwag show began and they smashed 80 runs in the humiliating 10 overs the Lankans had to bowl before the dinner break. Tendulkar was at his aggressive best again. He started off by smashing Vaas back past a jumping Sehwag and never let up. He was brutal on anything pitched up, and repeatedly smote the ball back past the bowler. There was another cheeky paddle sweep of Vaas, and this shot has surely got to be demoralizing for the bowler. Murali’s first ball was met with a quick dance down the track and lofted over mid off. It was vintage Tendulkar, and it was a sight to see. The Lankans had better come up with a plan to dismiss Tendulkar, because he is taking the game away from them.

Sehwag was in a typically belligerent mood and Nuwan Zoysa’s plan of bowling short to him on leg stump didn’t work as he was pulled and hooked away for 4,6,4. Sehwag gave it away with a tame return catch to Maharoof in the 10th over. JP Yadav was sent in to gain some batting practice but Murali got the best of him and remains the only bowler who has troubled the Indians. Dravid and Tendulkar easily finished off the game. It was an exhilariting performance by the Indians.

After the match, Marvan Attapatu struggled to explain his team’s performance and frankly said that they have to rediscover their self belief to win. Tom Moody has only a couple of days to motivate his team before the third match in Jaipur. Once again Dravid’s captaincy was astute and at the end he was all praise for his bowlers. With his team responding to him, Dravid and India look ready to apply the finishing touches with or without the selectors meddling.


India vs Sri Lanka, Nagpur, October 25, 2005

The masters of ‘strangulation’, a term coined by the Lankans, were subjected to India’s version of the same. A huge score while batting first was followed up by some wonderful spin bowling as India snuffed the fight out of the Sri Lankans. Harbhajan Singh bowled as well as he has in recent memory and deserved more than his three wickets. With Murali Kartik, super subbed into the Lankan chase, firing in the ball and extracting sharp turn, reminiscent of the test match against Australia on the minefield in Mumbai, it looked almost impossible to bat. Rahul Dravid was the captain in that Test match too.

In the morning, one had to marvel at Sachin Tendulkar’s return to international cricket after six months. He put to rest all concerns about his tennis elbow with a stunning lofted on drive for six off Dilhara Fernando. He proceeded to delight everyone with a cheeky paddle for four of Vaas, and also revealed a powerful ondrive of Fernando. It was an extremely aggressive knock and he set the tone for the entire innings. He didn’t hesitate to play aerial shots and was almost back to his fluent best. His lack of match fitness showed as he began cramping up in the eighties. He missed his hundred which would have made it a fairytale comeback, but still it was a remarkable innings.

The positive intent of the Indians was evident throughout the match, and today Dravid proved to be the captain with the Midas touch. Irfan Pathan was sent in at number three and showed that he can be India’s answer to the Flintoff phenomenon that is putting pressure on every international team to find an all rounder. He played with a straight bat initially before opening his shoulders and started playing the big shots. He was troubled by Murali, but got really stuck into Upul Chandana, clouting him for 17 runs in one over with two massive sixes. The Indians exploited the 20 power play overs and didn’t let up even after that as the sixes and fours continued to flow. Pathan accelerated quickly to catch up with Tendulkar, and the combined assault resulted in 164 runs in 24 overs. Both batsmen were dismissed in quick succession as the Lankans fought back but Dravid came in and played like the Vidarbha ground was tailor made for him. His timing was spot on from ball one, and he continued India's aggressive tone with a blistering 85 from 63 balls. Dhoni again flexed his cavalier muscles and along with Dravid powered India to a mammoth 350-6, with Dravid remaining unbeaten.

The Sri Lankan run chase got off to the worst possible start, as Pathan swung one back into the cynics who doubted his ability in the subcontinent and cleaned up Marvan Attapatu. Shreesanth started well on his debut with a promising first over but soon found out that an ODI in India is not the best place for a young fast bowler to make his debut. Jayasuriya and Sangakkara pounced on every slight error in line and length from all three fast bowlers. Sangakkara was in great touch and smashed two sixes on the leg side, one with power and the other with finesse. After giving his three medium pacers a short stint with the new ball, Dravid quickly realized that the seamers were up against it on this pitch, and in the 11th over he chose not to enforce the power play and brought in the spinners. Harbhajan struck in his first over as he went around the wicket and Jayasuriya tapped the ball to Dravid at short cover. In the very next over Sangakkara somehow worked the turning ball straight back to Sehwag and with two soft dismissals the promising chase was over almost as quickly as it began. Bhajji and Murali Karthik then destroyed the Lankan middle and lower order with three wickets each. The chase became impossible as the ball was turning sharply even when it was fired in. Whoops of delight from the bowlers became common place as one after the other the batsmen left shaking their ahead disbelievingly at the turn. Shreesanth was brought back to clean up the tail and his bowling figures. The young lad looks like an excellent prospect because of his control over his line and length. Also he has got Sachin Tendulkar as his mentor at mid on.

Sachin’s knock really highlighted how much this Indian team revolves around him. Later in the field he showed why Greg Chappell played a masterstroke by anointing him the chief mentor of the team. Strategy and encouragement were all visible in Tendulkar’s proactive performance in the field today. Dravid couldn’t have been more pleased with Tendulkar’s return and said as much in the post match ceremony.

It was an emphatic performance by the new India captain; round one to him, just eleven more to go.



No acceptance speech, no press conference, no practice camp and no team strategy planning sessions, at least nothing more than a teleconference. Thus begins Rahul Dravid’s captaincy, a transfer of power in suspended animation.

Nobody deserves the Indian Captaincy more than Rahul Dravid. His performance in Adelaide, Australia ’03-’04, alone earned him the right to lead. But, what he has slowly discovered is that being deserving and earning the right does not mean that the captaincy will be handed to him. Sourav Ganguly, with a back to the wall century in the Duleep Trophy, reminded him that he is not going without a fight, and people asking Ganguly to relinquish captaincy should step down from their high horses.

It is a battle that is not won easily; factors beyond Dravid’s control are influencing the result. The Board, the selectors, Greg Chappell, all have their own ideas, and in the end Dravid will be one who is responsible. Mere willingness to lead is not going to pave the way to success; a burning ambition to be a leader is what is required. The tri-series in Sri Lanka was a tough initiation and it should have helped him in preparing for the job. The selectors have dealt him 12 cards ( 7 against Sri Lanka and 5 against South Africa) and he has to conjure a winning hand from it. Unfortunately, his quota of beginners luck is already over, but 12 is definitely better than 7.