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October 29, 2000

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Lanka smash India in Sharjah finals

Prem Panicker

India lost the finals of the Coca Cola Trophy in Sharjah by 245 runs. Which on the face of it seems a mis-sprint. Shouldn't that read, India in the finals chased 245 runs?

That margin of victory, by the way, is the highest ever in One day internationals, beating the 233-run margin by which Pakistan beat Bangladesh in Dhaka on June 2nd, this year.

So what went wrong? I am sorely tempted to write everything, and just leave it at that. But let's look at the game as played.

India made one change -- Sriram went out, and Venkatesh Prasad came in. Which, right up front, makes you bless the stars that the Indian cricket board is stinking rich -- they can more than afford the airfare and expenses involved in flying Mohammad Kaif down to Sharjah for the pleasure of seeing him field brilliantly for 10 minutes in the previous game, and for five minutes today.

Sri Lanka too made one change -- dropping the super-expensive Eric Upashanta, and bringing back Weeraratne. Jayasuriya won the toss and opted to bat first. Which, as Ganguly said at the time, was what India would have done, too, had he won the toss.

Zahir Khan had a bad first, losing length and line and going for ten, but quickly recovered to find his line. His first spell read 6-1-22-1. And he achieved that by the simple ploy of bowling very full on off to Kaluwitharana, and just short, angled in to off, and lifting to Jayasuriya to cramp him for room.

At the other end, Agarkar after a great game yesterday, got back to his erratic self today. 5-1-27-0 his first spell, in course of which he bowled one over that was perfect in terms of line, length and direction and after that, compensated by bowling either down the leg side, or wide of off, to go for 27 in the other four.

Zahir Khan struck in the ninth over, when he bowled one on fullish length, cutting it back off the seam. Kaluwitharana tried to drive, playing the angle, the ball coming back took the under edge onto off stump.

Prasad took over from Agarkar. 2-0-24-0, with 14 of those coming in his first over. And at this point, one couldn't help wondering about the coach and the think tank. How often have we seen Jayasuriya bat, since the 1996 World Cup? Ask any schoolboy, and he will tell you there are two lines you do not bowl to that man -- one wide of off, which is where Agarkar bowled, and the other on leg stump, which is where Prasad bowled consistently. Three fours in the first over, all down leg. Two more in the second, in the same region. And what was astonishing was that instead of asking the bowler to change the line, the captain merely put another fielder on the leg side.again on middle and leg.

It was quite amusing, really, in a way, to watch the effects of the 'thinking'. A short fine leg was brought in, the obvious idea being to have Jayasuriya tuck one down his throat. Jaya merely went a touch further across and glanced, and once the ball beat the short fine leg, he didn't even bother to run.

With Zahir having to be rested, and Prasad and Agarkar proving too costly, Ganguly took the only way out, and brought Joshi on in tandem with Sachin Tendulkar. And immediately, the game changed. Both bowled superbly, focussing on the basics, denying any kind of room, keeping the pace of the ball as slow as possible, and the results were immediately apparent as the Lankan run rate was halted in its tracks.

A fortuitous run out took care of Marvan Atapattu. Jayasurya drove Sachin back down the track, the bowler got his fingers to it, the ball hit the stumps, and Atapattu, centurion in the previous game, was out cheap here.

Mahela Jayawardene's talent is not in dispute. His mind, though, certainly is. Time and again, he has thrown away his innings with atrocious hitting, and this innings was no exception as he kept throwing his bat at both Sachin and Joshi, finally falling to a sweep at the latter against the turn, to get the toe of the bat on it, the ball going high for Yuvraj to hold at midwicket.

Lanka, at one point 82/1 in 14, where 98/3 lanka in the 21st over with the fall of that wicket, 106/3 at the halfway mark. Testimony enough to how well the two spinners bowled in tandem. And they kept it up, the pressure mounting with every over either of them bowled. And that pressure yielded results - with the runs drying up, and even Jayasuriya rendered strokeless, Sangakarra tried to hit Tendulkar off his length. Twice, he went back and cut, only to be stopped at point. The third time, Sachin went wider of the crease and fired one in very quick, on the angle, Sangakarra again went for the shot, the pace on the ball beat him and back went middle stump. 116/4 in 28, Lanka.

Once Sachin finished his spell, to return figures of 10-0-28-1, Saurav Ganguly brought on Robin Singh to bowl off breaks. Which seemed good thinking. Even though he went for 13 in his two overs, he was warming to the task, and his second over was definitely tighter, and more in line, than his first. Strangely, he was taken off, and never brought back to the crease.

That was the first error. The second came when Joshi did a Herschelle Gibbs, in the 36th over. Jayasuriya slapped one back down the track, hard, Joshi had a simple, low catch to hold, and as with Gibbs in the World Cup, here Joshi celebrated before taking the catch, looking to throw it up and ending up grassing it. Jayasuriya at the time was 93, and India was set to pay for that lapse by a bowler who, on that day, did everything else right (in passing, Joshi finally had figures of 9-1-33-1 -- does it make you wonder why a bowler with figures like that didn't bowl his full quota?).

From then on, it was all Sri Lanka. With Arnold content to nudge and chip the ball around for singles and give his captain the strike, Jayasuriya took to throwing his bat at every ball that came his way. Agarkar was brought back. His second five overs went for 40 runs. Prasad was brought back. His second spell of five overs went for 49. Ganguly came in for one over, and took out Jayasuriya just when it seemed he might become the first to cross 200 in ODIs -- but he also went for 15 runs.

One argument possible is that Jayasuriya in that mood is unstoppable. But that is to ignore the fact that Sachin and Joshi stopped Jayasuriya in full flow, in the middle overs.

One over alone was enough to horrify all those watching. Prasad in the first ball of an over, pitched short on leg and was pulled for four. He then bowled fuller on leg, and was flicked for six. At that time, Ganguly put out another man on the boundary on the on, Prasad bowled the same length, and was again pulled for four. And then glanced fine, off leg stump, for another four. The thinking, if you can call it that, seems to be, let's keep feeding him on leg stump and see if he gets bored hitting fours and sixes.

Jayasuriya played a fantastic knock, let nothing take away from that. He got off to a flier, then when the runs dried up, he settled down to bat through, he kept his cool, and though towards the end of his innings he was feeling the strain (he constantly looked for singles and twos, and did an enormous amount of running between wickets besides the big hitting), he kept on and on, hell bent on ensuring that Lanka got to a huge score. The value of his innings is apparent in this, that after his 189, the next highest score was Arnold's 52 and after that, 15 by Kaluwitharana. This was a one man show, with Arnold playing the ideal supporting role.

But to see that innings in perspective, consider it from two different aspects. The first is in terms of which bowlers Jayasuriya got his runs off: Sachin bowled 29 balls to him and gave him 16; Joshi bowled 26 and gave 19; Agarkar bowled 32 and gave 45 (and 11 of those 32 balls were dot balls), Prasad bowled 33 balls, 11 of them were dot balls, and he gave an incredible 58 runs off the other 22; while Zahir bowled 30 balls and gave him 33.

The other way to look at it is where the runs came from. Jayasuriya's pet shots are the slash through the cover-third man arc, and the shots off the pads in the midwicket-backward square arc. On the day, he got 26 to fine leg, 46 to midwicket, 19 to square leg and 16 to long on on the on side; and 30 through point, 32 through covers, 7 to third man and 9 to long off (of which, four came from one shot off Ganguly in the 49th over).

One final statistic -- Jayasuriya got 20 fours and four sixes. One of those fours was to long on, the other to long off. The rest came in his favourite areas square on either side.

"We have the best medium pace attack in the world"? Famous last words, those.

India was obviously shell shocked. And yet, it was not like it was all over -- a sound, steady start, and with dew adding to the mix, the Lankan bowlers could have come under pressure.

Ganguly had, before the match, made a personal point of "waiting for Murali", and those words led me to think that the gameplan was for him to take it easy early on, given that the Lankan bowlers were sure to test him out with short stuff, let Tendulkar go for the bowling, and merely bide his time till Weerartne, and the spinners, came on. No such luck -- as early as the third over, Vaas pitched short outside off, and Ganguly went into the parody of a pull. Never mind that no batsman worth his salt pulls to a line outside off going further off the seam, one would assume that having been taken out on the pull twice already in this series, Ganguly would have left that shot back in the hut before coming out to bat. In the event, the hit went straight to mid on.

Immediately thereafter, Sachin followed his captain. Vaas bowled a slower ball, and you could see Sachin's indecision clear as daylight. He first shaped to pull, then changed his mind and opted for the safer push on the on (thoughts of safety prompted by the early fall of the first wicket?), only to end up tapping it back to the bowler.

Yuvraj Singh, upped to number three, had the advantage of coming in against pace, and having time to settle down before his bugbear, Muralitharan, came on to bowl. Only, he didn't last -- Vaas produced another slower ball, Yuvraj threw his bat at it, driving away from his body, and mid on was in business.

Next up, Kambli. Vaas produced a straight, quickish, ball outside off, Kambli slashed without moving his foot even a fraction, the edge saw Jayasuriya at slip dive to hold a very good catch to his wrong side, and India were 19/4.

Zoysa then chipped in, with a well aimed short ball which Badani pulled to mid on. Around this time, someone was asking in chat, how come when the Indian medium pacers pitched short, the ball disappeared while the Lankans kept getting wickets. The difference was the line -- the Lankans pitched off or just outside and angled it in so that the ball was coming in at the batsman, naturally cramping the pull. Whereas the Indians pitched leg, which meant that the slightest inward movement by the batsman would take the ball past his left shoulder (or right shoulder, for the left handers) and be perfectly into theslot for the pull.

The rout continued. Murali came in, floated one up in driving length for Dahiya, turned it in a mile, went through the gate and took out off stump. Murali then produced a top spinner, Robin Singh stepped back to cut, was beaten by the acceleration off the pitch, and lost middle stump. Next up, Joshi played one to point. Agarkar called for the one. Joshi said no. Agarkar kept calling, and Joshi took off -- and found the fielder throwing down the only stump he had to aim at.

49/8 in the 22nd over, and already, the indication was that India would not touch the previous lowest score of 63, against Australia. In passing, a thought about that previous score -- check out the batting lineup for that one: Chetan Chauhan, Roger Binny, Dilip Vengsarkar, G R Vishwanath, Sunil Gavaskar, Yashpal Sharma, Kapil Dev, Syed Kirmani, Karsan Ghavri, Yograj Singh (whose son, ironically, was number three here) and Dilip Doshi. Greg Chappell got his career best 5/15 against that lineup!

Anyways, India managed to get to 54 before being all out, in the 27th over. Which meant that the 11 batsmen on view had managed, just, to top Arnold's score of 52.

Arnold in fact deserves high praise for his batting here. What impresses you is his absolute cool. When he came in, Lanka was struggling at 116/4 in the 28th over. Jayasuriya was looking fidgety and beginning to make mistakes. The first time the Lankan captain mishit, Arnold was immediately down the wicket, calming him down. And you saw that time and again, Arnold playing the calming influence, cooling his captain down, noticeably egging him on to bat through -- a contribution Jayasuriya acknowledged in his post-match comments.

Another random thought -- generally, when the first wicket falls early, the survivor sees Rahul Dravid walk out. And that means he doesn't have to worry about a collapse at the other end, and can concentrate solely on his own game. But that hasn't been enough for us -- the comments are inevitably on the order of "he bats slow", "he uses up overs" and so on. For three games now, Dravid is among those missing -- and we had had three ridiculous batting collapses. One thing for sure (and yes, I am aware that I will get a lot of emails about how biased I am in Dravid's favour), we don't have to complain about a batsman using up overs now -- this time round, we used up less than 27. Which surely must be some consolation.

So now, what next for the team, and the selectors? "We saw no reason to change a winning team," was the comment before Sharjah.

Now we have a losing team -- will the deserving, like a Harbajan, a Kaif, a Sodhi, a Karthik, get a look in?

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