Making the most of the Super Sub rule (ranjit nair)

(Ranjit Nair raised some interesting points about Super Subs in his comments so I asked him to contribute a posting)

Fleming may moan about the Super Sub rule, Lehman may hate it (quote: "I'd like to make a point about shit rules."), Atapattu may not understand it yet (Trevor Chesterfield says, “Atapattu was also brave enough to admit that the new International Cricket Council limited-overs formula of super sub and Power play has left them scratching their heads”), but the fact remains that while this experiment continues, all international teams will need to learn to adjust to it quickly. When we look at this rule closely, it seems like it should not be too difficult to come up with a good strategy for this new rule.

The following three points (from ICC’s ODI Playing Conditions) serve as a gist of the super sub rule (Note that there a few more subtleties but they are fairly intuitive):

1. The replacement bowler shall only be entitled to bowl the remaining number of overs that the replaced player still had available.

2. A player from the batting side may be replaced either before he has batted or whilst at the crease. The replacement of a player who has already been dismissed will only be permitted if the batting team is still to field.

3. A replaced player shall not be entitled to take any further part in the match save as the substitute fielder in accordance with the Laws.

Atapattu and Tom Moody seemed to think that the Indians took advantage of the super sub rule very well in the recently concluded series. However, a closer look at these decisions reveals a different story. In game 1, India chose Murali Kartik as the super sub. On winning the toss, Dravid chose to bat and replaced Venugopal Rao with Kartik after the 12th over of the Sri Lankan innings. This worked out very well because now we had an extra bowler to add some teeth to our bowling line-up. While this seemed like a good idea, it could have backfired in the second game where India again went with a specialist bowler (Sree Santh) as the Super Sub. Dravid again won the toss, chose to field first and ended up not using the extra bowler so as not to weaken the batting line-up. This time around Dravid was criticized (and rightly so) because it seemed strange to pick a bowler as the super sub if he intended to bat first. Maybe Dravid expected to lose the toss given that he won the previous toss in which case someone needs to explain to him that tosses are i.i.d. (the geek in me raises his ugly head) and that winning the previous toss has no bearing on whether he would win the next one. Luckily for Dravid and India, the Indian bowlers without Sree Santh, were more than enough for Sri Lanka.

In the next 5 games, Dravid’s choice of the super sub and the timing on when to make the replacement were spot on. But just when I thought that he had a hang of this new rule, he proved me wrong in the first two games against SA by opting for a specialist batsman as the super sub. In the first game, Gautam Gambhir was chosen as the super sub. This immediately told Graeme Smith if he won the toss India would be in an inconvenient position if they were made to bat first because they would either have to choose not to use their super sub or would end up with one bowler less. As it turned out, Smith won the toss and chose to field first. Then South African bowlers got the Indian top order out early (35/5) forcing Dravid to bring in Gambhir in place of Murali Kartik, leaving India a bowler short. It is academic to talk about what would have happened if J P Yadav or another all-rounder was chosen as the super sub, but at the very least it would not have left India in a position where they were playing 12 vs. 11. In game two, Dravid made the same mistake of going with a specialist batsman as the super sub. Luckily for him, this time around he won the toss and the game, and the fallacy of his thinking was not exposed.

What captains should realize is that the Super Sub rule allows them to make ODI cricket a 12 vs. 12 game. That is why I fail to follow the logic of going with a specialist batsman or a specialist bowler as the super sub. It works fine if you win the toss (like in game two against SA and game 1 against SL) but you could suddenly find yourself a bowler or a batsman short. As a rule, the super sub should be an all rounder who fields really well. If we field first, we should use one of the specialist bowlers for ten overs at a trot and then replace him with our super sub. This could be someone like Raina, JP Yadav or Yuvraj Singh. If one of the specialist bowlers is having an off day then again we bring the Super Sub in. That way we have an extra bat when it comes to our turn to bat. If we bat first, we bring in the all rounder only in the case of a batting collapse. If there is no collapse then the super sub is brought in after one of the specialist bowlers finishes his quota or gets tonked around a lot. The thing with this strategy is that you are safe irrespective of whether you bat first or field first. Plus, the opposition doesn't know what you would prefer -- batting or field first – unlike in game one against SA where Smith remarked that he chose to put India in because of our choice of super sub.


Indian bowlers control second ODI

Irfan Pathan’s aggression knocked over the South African top order and the spinners strangulated the lower order. Pathan had taken a pounding from Graeme Smith in the first match, but this time he snapped up three quick wickets to have South Africa reeling. AB deVilliers flicked one straight to the square leg fielder to continue his strange run in the one day games. Graeme Smith walked across his stumps in an attempt to impose himself on Pathan again but the ball rapped him on his pads, and this time the umpire agreed with the bowler. Pathan then angled one across Jacques Kallis and he tried to force it off his back foot only to be beaten by the extra bounce and got an edge to Dhoni. Ajit Agarkar maintained a wonderful line, mixing up his pace and confounding all his critics as to how he has quickly disciplined himself to become the most reliable new ball bowler for India. He bowled 6 overs for 15 runs in his opening spell.

The Bangalore pitch was an abrasive turner and one could see white spots where the fast bowlers pitched the ball. On such a gripping surface the spinners would have a say and Rahul Dravid broughtHarbhajan Singh on in the 14 th over. Bhajji promptly produced a ripper from around the wicket to the left handed Ashwell Prince, it pitched on leg stump and turned sharply to hit his pad in front of middle and off. The umpire gave Prince the benefit of the doubt. But, on this pitch you couldn’t keep Bhajji out of the game. Andrew Hall after edging one to the third man boundary turned an off break straight to forward short leg for Kaif to take very good reflex catch. South Africa were struggling at 57-4. Bhajji found the leading edge of Ashwell Prince almost once every over, and Mark Boucher was bewildered and lucky not to be dismissed by a doosra. Bhajji was enjoying himself and if it was a Test match, he’d probably have taken 10 wickets in the match. Prince decided to employ the sweep and was lucky that two top edges fell short of the man on the boundary.

Boucher tried to improve the scoring rate, but couldn’t get going against Harbhajan and an extremely focused Murali Karthik. Dravid was attacking throughout and after 7 wonderful overs from Harbhajan, he brought in Virendar Sehwag. Sehwag struck in his very first over as Boucher's sweep failed to connect and he was hit on the pad. He was slightly unlucky to be declared LBW as the ball hit him just outside the off stump. Justin Kemp probably has never played on a slow turner like this and began with an edge landing just short of Dravid at slip. Prince danced down the pitch and tried to hit an off spinner over mid on for the second time in the series only to sky a catch once again. This time around, Sehwag was the wicket taker. Prince has shown a lot of patience and grit in the 2 games so far and if he is a quick learner he probably will not try to hit over the top against the spin in the next three games. Meanwhile Murali Karthik was bowling maiden overs on the trot and run scoring became a chore. Murali finished his 10 over for 16 runs and bowled 4 maidens, in fact it would have been 5 maidens if not for a no ball.

Harbhajan was brought back and Kemp finally attempted a big shot only to see RP Singh run forward from the square leg boundary and diving to take a great catch. Pollock finally managed a six in Harbhajan’s last over but failed when he attempted to repeat the shot of Yuvraj Singh to have his off stump knocked back. Botha hit a couple of fine boundaries in the last over to take the score to 169 before Agarkar’s reverse swing uprooted Ntini’s middle stump.

Second innings will be posted later.


South Africa explodes off the blocks

After the 6-1 drubbing of Sri Lanka the Indians received a hard lesson in tough cricket from South Africa. The South African bowling aggression and peerless fielding completely surprised the Indian batting line up and the top order was blown away for next to nothing. It was only due to the courage of Irfan Pathan and Yuvraj Singh that India was not bowled out for an embarrassingly low total. Feeding off Pathan’s forthright batting, Yuvraj settled down to rescue India with a wonderful century and take them to a more than respectable total of 249. But, it wasn’t enough as Graeme Smiths pyrotechnics at the top of the order provided enough cushion for Jacques Kallis to play a measured innings of clinical efficiency and economy of effort to guide South Africa to a win in the opening game of the five match one day series.

The pitch had some juice on it in the morning and Smith had no hesitation in inserting India in to bat. Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini were outstanding in their opening spells, offering no width at all to the Indian batsman. Pollock was getting bounce and movement in his first over and beat Tendulkar a couple of times with away movement. But, it was Ntini who struck in the next over as Sehwag swatted one towards point only to see Ashwell Prince diving to his left to take a brilliant catch. Pollock then suckered Kaif with one that jagged back in and catching him dead on the crease. In his next over Pollock removed Tendulkar with another outswinger and India was being embarrassed by some great bowling by the South Africans. Just when it looked as if Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj had weathered the early morning juice in the pitch, Andre Nel steamed in and cut one back appreciable between Dravid’s bat and pad to take out the off stump. Nel’s right foot moves alarmingly to one side in his delivery stride, and it looks as if he will pick up an injury soon, but he is definitely is fun to watch as he huffs and puffs his way into the batsman’s face. India had to use Gautam Gambhir as the Super Sub, sacrificing Murali Karthik, but it failed as Gambhir played an ambitious cover drive only to edge it through to the keeper. Half the side was gone and it was only the 12th over. Dhoni was shunted down the order to save him for the end, and Irfan Pathan was sent in.

Pathan played some bold shots from the very first ball and took the fight back to the South Africans; instead of succumbing to the pressure he played his lofted strokes over the infield to the boundary. It was a refreshing batting display by the young man. Meanwhile, Yuvraj was leading a charmed life and all his edges flew past a diving second slip and one top edged hook off Ntini went for a six. Pathan calmly lofted Ntini over mid off, punched Nel over cover and his partnership with Yuvraj steered India away from embarrassment. Johan Botha was given his first spell in International cricket and did pretty well on debut. A former medium pacer who converted to off spin bowling, he had picked Harbhajan Singh’s brain during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and today he proved that he was a good student. Pathan tried to dominate him, but Botha never caved in. Even though Pathan collected three boundaries off him, he was never able to get on top off Botha. Pathan was beaten in flight as he came down the track, and poked at the ball only to miss it and get bowled. Dhoni came in and started off well with a sweetly timed backfoot punch for four off Botha. Dhoni ran hard collecting a lot of two’s but played pretty cautiously. With less than 15 overs remaining Yuvraj decided to take control of the situation and opened his shoulders. He sent a full pitched delivery from Kallis over long on and followed it up with a cut shot to the third man boundary. Dhoni continued to run hard, but perished while attempting another two. Nel’s pick up and throw came right into Boucher’s gloves and he took the bails off in a flash, it was only a matter of centimeters but Dhoni had to go. The Indian lower order was not going without a fight, and Ajit Agarkar built another useful partnership with Yuvraj by playing straight and running hard. The pair added 39 runs for the eighth wicket before Agarkar holed out to midwicket. Harbhajan was in next and watched Yuvraj reach his century with a six over long on and a four to the point boundary off Nel. Bhajji showed that he was in good touch with a flick down to the fine leg boundary. He followed it up with a stunning straight hit down the ground for a six. Ntini was the bowler to suffer as he couldn’t get it up in the block hole. Yuvraj foolishly ran himself out with 2 overs still remaining and one thought India had lost the opportunity to reach 250. Harbhajan proved everyone wrong as both Nel and Ntini couldn’t get their length right and Harbhajan tucked Nel’s full tosses to the mid wicket boundary and smashed Ntini full pitched balls to and over the long off fence. India finished on 249 and it was a remarkable comeback by a team that had lost half its side for 35.

It didn’t prove to be enough as Graeme Smith blazed away at the top slaughtering a wayward Pathan. Pathan bowled on both sides of the wicket and Smith smashed him all around the park, being especially strong square of the wicket. Agarkar bowled another good opening spell and took the wickets of AB DeVilliers and Justin Ontong to keep India in the game. Smith somehow dragged a wide RP Singh delivery onto the stumps and the game was wide open. But, Kallis and Prince played extremely cautiously knowing that they were well ahead of the required rate. Harbhajan was treated with the utmost respect and the run rate slowed to a crawl. The Kallis-Prince partnership continued and India really missed their fifth bowler today, especially since they were defending a moderate target. Pathan was brought back, but proved expensive in his second spell too. Sachin, Sehwag and Yuvraj filled in the overs for the fifth bowler but they were non threatening. The accurate Bhajji finally got a wicket as Prince stepped down and tried to hit him over the top, but South Africa never panicked even when Boucher slapped a full toss from Sachin to short midwicket.

Jacques Kallis was like a rock at the other end and their new finisher, Justin Kemp, played with a cool head to ease them to a comfortable win. Dravid brought the field up and tried to use the slower bowlers to force a mistake from the batsman, but today all of Sachin’s googly’s were full tosses that were punished and the pressure couldn’t be maintained on the South Africans.

India did well to come back into the game after a horrible start, and they would have quickly realized that the South African new ball attack is far more potent than the Sri Lankan one. But, they shouldn’t fall into the trap of playing them with extra care and focus only on how to prevent top order collapses, because then they will be playing the same way Sri Lanka did, trying to catch up from behind. The answer as Pathan showed lies in meeting aggressive bowling and fielding with aggressive batting. It will be a good test for the Indian team, but Chappell & Dravid have the tactical nous to counter the South Africans and this five match series promises to be a very competitive one.

India vs Sri Lanka, Baroda, Nov 12, 2005

Sri Lanka’s planning and strategy has been poor throughout the series and the trend continued with their bizarre decision to bat first after winning the toss. The pitch had a smattering of grass on it and the morning conditions would help the swing bowlers. Irfan Pathan wasn’t going to miss out on this gift on his home ground, and promptly got an early breakthrough. Ajit Agarkar, the best bowler of the series also cashed in with a wicket and Sri Lanka were struggling after the first hour of the game. Marvan Atapattu and Russell Arnold fought back with a valiant partnership, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Indian momentum. Tendulkar and Sehwag gave them a blazing start, Irfan Pathan came in at number three to continue his home ground celebration and Dhoni hammered in all but the last nail on the coffin.

On a pitch that had something in it for the fast bowlers, RP Singh produced another excellent spell and broke the developing partnership Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Mahela turned the ball straight into Karthik’s hands at midwicket and Sangakkara tried another one of his fool hardy pull shots on a ball outside off stump only to spoon it up for a steepling catch to Yuvraj. RP Singh then slanted one past Dilshan for the batsman to nick it to Dhoni and then got another edge off Atapattu, but umpire Hariharan somehow didn’t hear it; can’t really blame him because even Dhoni didn’t hear it. Harbhajan was his miserly self again, but Murali Karthik proved to be expensive. He chose a negative line with his left arm over the wicket deliveries pitched outside leg stump. Atapattu swept him away repeatedly for boundaries. Arnold played another fine knock, and it was a remarkable recovery as the pair batted together for more than 20 overs, circumspect in the beginning and accelerating towards the end. Pathan claimed them both with a bit of luck as both the lefthander and right hander found Harbhajan Singh on the square boundary. Agarkar bowled some fast swinging yorkers and full tosses to contain Sri Lanka and claimed ‘Loco Loku’ but they managed to reach a total of 244, which they at least had a chance to defend.

But, it proved to be too small as Sachin and Sehwag provided another blistering start to the Indian innings. Dilhara Fernando bowled with some sharp pace around 145 kph and even had Tendulkar jumping with the bounce he obtained, but he went for a lot of runs as Sehwag sent him away faster than it came. Fernando finally got Sehwag with fast and full delivery that swung away from the right hander. The 53 run opening partnership was followed up by another stunning innings from Pathan at number three. He hit 4 fours and 2 sizes and every shot of his was over the 30 yard circle. The lad has remarkable strength and confidence to clear the close in fielders and seems like perfect hitter to utilize the 20 power play overs. Pathan and Tendulkar were dismissed quickly after their half century partnership, and Sri Lanka sensed an opening when Loco Loku sneaked through the defenses of Mohhamd Kaif. But Man of the Series Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the inform Indian captain Rahul Dravid batted without fear for India to canter to a win. As usual Dhoni smote a few sixes but perished while trying to finish the match off with one. Dravid was left to hit the winning stroke.

The Sri Lankans have been completely outplayed in this series. As Atapattu himself admitted they struggled with the PowerPlays. If you remember they did not employ the new rules in the tri-series at home just because the tournament started one day before the ICC rules became mandatory. That was daft decision and they have really paid for it in this series. Instead of playing with the new rules in a familiar environment they have struggled to cope with it in India.

The Indian selectors have done a wonderful job in this series by picking youngsters and giving them an opportunity. They unearthed good bowlers like RP Singh, Shree Santh and even two long term batting prospects in Suresh Raina and Venugopal Rao. RP Singh really looks like a mature bowler and is a cross between Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan. He hits the deck like Zaheer and can swing it like Irfan and can also touch speed upto 143kph, when he bends his back. He is the complete package. Shree Santh impressed with his ability to maintain his line while generating sharp pace. The team is back and it looks like a very good unit in batting, bowling and most importantly fielding.

India will be looking forward to the South Africa series with confidence, whereas Sri Lanka will be mighty pleased that they have a fortuitous break in between the one day games and the Test matches.


India vs Sri Lanka, Rajkot, Nov 9 2005

A fit Dravid took a break and sat out the sixth ODI in an apparent move to groom Sehwag to be the next captain. Staggering how things have moved on in Indian cricket! This was Sehwag’s opportunity to stamp his authority on the game and he did it well, probably having rubbed off on some of Dravid’s Midas touch. His bowling changes produced wickets that ensured Sri Lanka could never build a significant partnership and were bowled out for 196 on a good batting pitch. His batsmen had no trouble chasing it down and the old hands of Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif guided India to a thumping win.

At the start it looked like vintage Sanath Jayasuriya was back as he pounced on some wide offerings from Shree Santh and Sri Lanka were off to a rollicking start. But, Santh went around the wicket and brought the ball back into Jayasuriya to get an inside edge into Dhoni’s hands. Sangakkara came in at one drop to sweetly time a couple of balls to the leg side before he tried an expansive pull shot at a short ball from Pathan. It was a slower one and the ball looped to Sachin at mid on. It was a terrible shot and not the first time that Sangakara has tried something like it, but this time it jump started the disarray that was to follow. RP Singh was accurate and sharp and got one to lift appreciably surprising the other opener Upul Tharanga for an easy catch to Dhoni.

Dhoni was having a great day behind the stumps and it looks like his batting confidence has improved his keeping. Sehwag introduced Karthik in the first power play and off the very first ball Mahela Jayawardene reached forward to the perfect left arm orthodox delivery that looped and turned to beat the bat. As the batsman over balanced, Dhoni whipped off the bails before you could say Jiminy Crickets. It was a fantastic stumping, and Mahela walked off even before the third umpire’s verdict. In the next over Atapattu tried to hoick a good length ball from RP Singh and it landed safely into a delighted Sehwag’s hands at mid on. It was as if the Lankans had told themselves that since they didn’t have Muralitharan today, they needed to score 350 to win the match. Half the side was gone for 83 and Sri Lanka were in deep trouble. Tilekaratne Dilshan counter attacked as he knows best and got away to a flying start with 2 fours each of Karthik and RP Singh. Harbhajan Singh was brought into the attack and he started off with a maiden and immediately put a break on the scoring rate. Dilshan was cautious against a menacing Bhajji and Russell Arnold was tying himself up in knots against Karthik. The Sri Lankans tried to take quick singles to get a move on, but Mohammad Kaif was prowling the cover region and swooped down on one and flung it back to Dhoni, who picked it up smartly on the half volley to break the stumps and run out Arnold. It was a brilliant collection by Dhoni as Kaif had thrown the ball with all his might. Dilshan fought a lone battle as wickets continued to fall. Chaminda Vaas’ defense couldn’t keep Karthik out as the ball snaked through off his bat and pad and rolled onto the stumps.

India’s fielding has been excellent in this series with all the young blood diving around the field, and today the veterans Kaif and Yuvraj, (can you call them veterans?) stepped up to the party. After Kaif’s brilliant work earlier, it was Yuvraj’s turn to run out Dilshan with a direct hit at the non strikers end from backward point. Dilshan was gone after another attacking half century in his third successive match. Maharoof was subbed in the place of Zoysa for his batting but he didn’t last long. RP Singh came back and Maharoof looped a cover drive on a ball that was held back and it went high to Kaif, who had no problems with it. Singh then cleaned up Chandana with a good yorker to end the Lankan innings at 196 and finished with 4 wickets to claim the Man of the Match award. India’s bounty of left arm fast bowlers is swelling.

India got off to a rollicking start with Gautam Gambhir continuing on from his aggressive century from the previous game. He charged down in Vaas’ first over to smash him over cover. Gambhir was strong square of the wicket with cuts and pulls and punished both new ball bowlers, while Tendulkar played the more cautious role. Fernando has been in pretty good form this series and today he finally got rewards with wickets of both openers with his brilliantly disguised split finger slower ball. It is a new way of bowling the slower ball that bowlers around the world are slowly mastering. Steve Harmison bowls a similar slower ball and it is very difficult to pick as the arm speed is the same, and there is no turning of the wrist, the ball is slower because the index and forefingers fingers are split and not behind the seam propelling the ball down the pitch. Gambhir played too early to chop the ball onto his stumps and Tendulkar drove too early and looped the ball to mid on. Sehwag came in and blasted a few boundaries square of Maharoof, who must be thinking that he perhaps should bowl in the slog overs as only that seems to work for him in India. Mohammad Kaif settled in with a sweetly timed punch through covers of Fernando’s slower ball and the runs continued to flow. Sehwag was looking good and even played a cheeky reverse sweep for four of Jayasuriya but he was foxed into a leading edge by a beautifully flighted leg break from Upul Chandana, who picked up his first wicket of the series.

Sri Lanka had a small window of opportunity here, but Chandana struggled against the left handed Yuvraj Singh as he didn’t have any variation like the googly to trouble him. Both Kaif and Yuvraj played him well and the slow turn did not bother them. While Kaif worked the ball around, Yuvraj was in a belligerent mood with a point to prove in the series. It has been a while since the pair batted together and Yuvraj and Kaif seemed to revel in their partnership and it was evident how much it mattered to them when after completing a single to reach their 50 run partnership, Kaif called out to Yuvraj and said “Yuvi, 50 runs”. They celebrated by converting it into a century stand, with Yuvraj smashing the ball around to quickly bring up the second fifty. He danced down the track with authority to both Chandana and Dilshan to loft them for sixes. He even unleashed a brutal lofted off drive of Fernando for another six. The boundary appeared small as the full power of the strapping Yuvraj Singh was revealed and the match finished in a hurry.

Atapattu looked a beaten man in the presentation ceremony and will struggle to lift his team for the next match and the Test series that follows in December. Sehwag was a proud captain and said that his boys deserved the win and that it had nothing to do with the conditions. Heady days for India; and one can only look forward to the one day series against South Africa with anticipation. Of course there is one more match to be played against Sri Lanka which the Indians won’t be too worried about, but Sourav Ganguly will be dreading the Indian team announcement after that match.


India vs Sri Lanka Ahmedabad, Nov 6, 2005

Enterprising batting by Tilekeratne Dilshan and calm accumulation by Russell Arnold under the lights guided Sri Lanka to their first win in the 7 match series. The chase under lights became easier as the evening dew made the ball slippery and negated all deviation of the pitch making it near perfect batting conditions. But, the Indians had only themselves to blame as an inexperienced middle order crumbled from 197-3 to 230-7 in about 7 overs. Farveez Maharoof, brought on as a SuperSub for the injured Nuwan Zoysa, picked up 4 wickets in 4 overs to redeem himself in an otherwise bleak series with the ball.

India rested Sachin Tendulkar, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh for the match and replacing them were Gautam Gambhir, RP Singh and Murali Kartik. Marvan Atapattu won the toss and inserted India into bat, and Gambhir grabbed his opportunity with an aggressive innings. He is an extremely busy player even in Test matches and seemed like a perfect fit in ODI’s. He easily outscored Sehwag, with square drives, cover drives, pulls and even charging down the wicket to pick up Zoysa off his legs for a six over square leg. India got off to another blazing start, before Sehwag threw it away again by chopping Zoysa onto his stumps. Mahendra Singh Dhoni departed off the very next ball as Zoysa pitched one on leg stump and straightened it onto Dhoni’s pad. Yuvraj Singh came in next and pottered around for 20 balls for three runs before finally dragging a slower ball from Vaas to mid wicket. India were in trouble at 69-3.

Rahul Dravid came in to essay another rescue operation and he did so with aplomb. Dravid has been in great touch throughout the series, adding invaluable solidity to the Indian middle order and he started off with a picture perfect on drive of Vaas. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, Zoysa had injured himself and couldn’t bowl any more, Farveez Maharoof was the Super Sub, mainly for his batting but he had to be brought in earlier than expected. Atapattu delayed using him and he attacked with Muralitharan. Dravid played Muralitharan cautiously while Gambhir continued to gallop along at more than a run a ball. Gambhir was particularly severe on the short pitched stuff from Fernando with his short armed pull shots. He also tucked into the offerings from Dilshan and Sanath Jayasuriya, stepping down the track to them and sweeping them fine. The pair put together a century stand and also played out 7 overs of Muralitharan without taking any risks. Gambhir reached a wonderful hundred and was looking to accelerate when he pulled Maharoof only to see Atapptau at midwicket take fine one handed catch lunging to his left. Maharoof then removed Venugopal Rao, Suresh Raina and Ajit Agarkar in successive overs. The slog overs were becoming a disaster for India before Dravid willed his mind and cramping body into another astonishing performance and he himself scored 31 in the last five overs building useful partnerships with Murali Karthik and the spirited RP Singh. Dravid even stepped out to loft Murali for a six over long on. He reached his century with a four of the penultimate ball and raised his hands in triumph. 285-8 was a score that had seemed beyond India’s grasp, but it certainly was 15-20 runs short, because of Maharoof incisive 4 wicket spell.

Sri Lanka's chase didn’t get off to a great start with Ajit Agarkar and RP Singh starting off right on target. RP Singh swung the ball away from the left handers at a sharp pace around the 140kph mark, and was unlucky to see Gambhir dropping Sangakkara at first slip. Agarkar claimed Jayasuriya once more with a ball pushed across the left hander and the new slip fielder, Venugopal Rao, made no mistake. Upul Tharanga again got off to a start before heaving wildly to pop a catch to long off for Agarkar’s second wicket. Shree Santh bowled with fire and pace and was unlucky not to pick up any wickets. RP Singh came back in his second spell to claim Sangakarra after a well made 39, this time Rao at slip holding onto the catch after about 6 attempts. Atapattu and Jayawardene put together a vital partnership as the pitch eased up and the ball became slippery. They were guiding Sri Lanka to an easy victory but the young Indians led by Sehwag, in the absence of the cramping Dravid, never gave up. When Murali Karthik foxed Atapattu into a leading edge trying to turn the ball against the spin, the Indians sensed an opportunity. JP Yadav’s alacrity at point resulted in a direct hit and a run out of Jayawardene. Half the Lankan side were gone and they still needed 136 more. India were on top now, but Dilshan took it away from them with an innings of courage with brave shots over the infield. Arnold lent into some powerful sweeps and the target was whittled away easily. In the end Dilshan finished it off with a flurry of big hits to remain unbeaten on 81 in double quick time.

India’s backup men showed grit and determination, but they were defeated as much by their own inexperience in the slog overs as a courageous partnership from Dilshan and Arnold.


India vs Sri Lanka, Pune, November 3, 2005

India 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.