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Beaten white and blue

In white shirts or blue, India's batsmen just can't seem to come to grips with batting in Sri Lanka, reports Anand Vasu. Mission Sri Lanka

cricket Updated: Aug 18, 2008 23:49 IST
Anand Vasu

In white shirts or blue, India's batsmen just can't seem to come to grips with batting in Sri Lanka.

For the first time in a 50-over game cheerleaders were deployed, and as is standard in Sri Lanka, a pappara band hammered out baila tunes and Hindi film numbers but India's batsmen failed to come to the party.

After losing Virender Sehwag to an ankle injury, and choosing to bat, India were shot out for a paltry 146, leaving Sri Lanka with a saunter to victory that was achieved with eight wickets and over 15 overs to spare.

It was not that all of India's batsmen made the same mistake. Rather, it was a case of none of them doing things right on a consistent basis. Gambhir drove down the wrong line in Chaminda Vaas's first over and left enough gap between bat and pad for the ball to sneak through and give the seamer his 399th ODI scalp.

But it was Vaas's lesser-experienced partner, Nuwan Kulasekara, who forced the issue, making use of the early assistance to get the ball to move in the air and off the pitch. Virat Kohli, whose primary scoring area was the arc between gully and third-man region via outside edge, was opened up professionally and trapped in front.

Suresh Raina was assured in his defensive play early on and got a start, but before he could build a meaningful partnership he succumbed to a soft dismissal, popping a catch to short cover. At 36 for three, India had started wobbling, with no sign of Ajantha Mendis at the bowling crease.

But Mendis did step forward, in the 19th over, and his entry was suitably dramatic. Yuvraj Singh, who had been dropped at second slip earlier by Mahela Jayawardene off Kulasekara, was beaten first ball and sneaked two byes.

Yuvraj survived a leg-before shout off the second and replied with aggression, lofting the third delivery into the stands over long-on. Mendis pushed the next ball through a bit quicker - the carrom ball, and Yuvraj's defensive prod was only good enough to drag it back onto the stumps.

Rohit Sharma, who had threatened to bring some stability to the innings, and yet seemed to occupy the crease without much purpose, steered Thilan Thushara straight to second slip and India had slumped to 75 for five. Mendis, who had taken out the vice-captain, did not have to wait long to scalp the leader of the opposition.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, shaped to cut a ball outside off that appeared to be delivered seam-up more than anything else, but only managed a thick edge to slip. At 87 for six, with all the batsmen gone, the game was as good as in the bag for Sri Lanka, and only Jayawardene's decision to take Mendis out of the attack prolonged India's crease occupation.

The tail wagged, without great pretensions of batting correctly, and a last-wicket partnership of 29 pushed India to 146. Even the best efforts of Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan, who bowled with heart defending a low score would not stop Mendis from walking away with the Man-of-the-Match award in his first home ODI. The fall of two early wickets was well papered over by Jayawardene and Chamara Kapugedara as Sri Lanka breezed to a 1-0 lead in the series.