Friday, March 23, 2007

Sri Lanka shows India the door

Such is the faith the Indian fans have in their team that they ignore its mediocrity and expect miracles each time they play. Given India’s recent record, it’s hard to imagine it going on to win the World Cup. Although even now with calculators out, the fans can’t seem to stop hoping. But not making it to the Super 8 is a bitter blow for even the casual fan.

Early blows

Of all the collected moments in this, the latest disaster for Indian fans, the one that stood out the most for me was Tendulkar’s dismissal. For a number of reasons documented in miles of newsprint, Tendulkar is our most iconic player – no one embodies India more than him. And of course, there is that little statistic of how he is the most prolific player in ODI history by a long margin. Even though Team India has won games without a significant contribution from him, even though we’ve learned to hope after he’s gone, his dismissal is still a significant one. If it doesn’t puncture the balloon, it at least takes a significant amount of air out of it.

Today against Sri Lanka, when Uthappa departed to a ghastly pull-drag from outside the off stump and Ganguly’s turbulent timing finally caught up with him, India were two down for next to nothing. But Sehwag was going great guns and Tendulkar walked out in the middle. And as is the case, he brought with him a crackle in the air.

The crucial dismissal

And then somehow, almost magically, Dilhara Fernando conjured up that wicked, cruel delivery. It landed well back of a length and seamed right in to the right hander. But that wasn’t what beat Tendulkar. It was the speed that knocked him out. By the time the batsman’s bat had moved in line with his pads, the ball had kissed the inside edge and hammered his stumps. And just like that, the stuffing was knocked out of the Indians. A hush fell over the stadium and for the first time you could taste defeat in the air. Of all the memories of India in World Cup 2007, this will be a defining one for me.

Assuming quite sanely that India won’t make it (and as a fan, one still hopes for a miracle), the South Asian torch is firmly in the hands of Sri Lanka. But based on what I saw today, despite their electrifying display, Sri Lanka doesn’t look a team that could take home the World Cup.

Problems remain for the Tigers

There are some problems for sure. First, Jayasurya doesn’t look like the flowing batsman that would keep a bowler awake all night. His partner Tharanga loves to drive so much that if a bowler finds a length, they can keep him quiet without working up a sweat. Mahela Jayawardene has more talent in his little finger than some batsmen do in their entire body, but when he bats he almost seems afraid to succeed.

And although the bowling department looks diverse and healthy - I’m not sure about Vaas. He chose to bowl with Sangakarra standing up to him today. It was a canny move designed to chain the batsmen to their crease. And it worked at the outset, but Vaas had to drop his speed so much that it wasn’t difficult for the Indians to pick him up. It’s the tendency of the Indians to go in for the big shots that proved their undoing yet again. If Vaas runs into a couple of more sensible top drawer batsmen, they will milk him for runs till the cows come home.

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