A win always enhances the feel-good factor and before leaving for Sydney in a positive frame of mind with four valuable points, India will feel better because of another reason. To squeeze out a win under pressure after negotiating several troughs and turns means extra satisfaction and in this sense, the Tuesday teaser should leave them better prepared for the final round of league matches.
There were moments and periods when it looked as if this one was going to slip out of grip too, like against Australia on Sunday. Apart from the fact that they had done well in the first place to get a grip on things, India could finally draw inspiration also from the way they played sensibly when it mattered to deny Sri Lanka further inroads after the islanders had created a few openings. As reward, they have a strong chance of making the finals.
Leading by example
Here was a classic example of simple perseverance rising above flair and flamboyance. Kumar Sangakkara and Yuvraj Singh played contrastingly classy innings, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s unwavering focus on the target prevailed over everything else. The situation demanded his presence and despite being way behind in pedigree purely as batsman than many others, he showed that resolve can overcome many shortcomings.
The face of this new team that believes in taking the fight to the opposition, Dhoni taught some of his teammates that adjusting to situations is also the name of the game, not just out-and-out aggression. There was no four or six in his 68-ball 50. Marking the gaps, making room on either side to place the ball around with soft hands and then running as if his life hung on those singles and twos, this was a heroic effort that might prove crucial while taking stock after the league phase.
Just once did he try something risky. It was the first ball of the final over with India needing three. Dhoni didn’t want a single, for that would have exposed Ishant Sharma to the hungry Sri Lankans who had tasted blood. He missed a heave that probably he himself didn’t know where it was intended to go, but luckily, the umpire called wide.
Yuvraj at last
The start was familiar and bad. Things never crystalised after Sachin Tendulkar got a ripper and the vulnerabilities of the top order surfaced again, threatening a repeat of what was seen several times in the last few weeks. A partnership was needed more badly than Yuvraj needed runs and it came with the help of some bold strokes. The man looking for form was hitting the ball as well as he ever has and after cracking the second ball he faced through mid-wicket, there was an exhilarating exhibition of boundaries.
Sangakkara’s century was a high-quality effort and worth its weight in gold because of the situation it came in. A sublime striker of the ball, whose range of shots is as wide as anybody, he paced his knock admirably because he had to be more cautious than cavalier for a better part. Yuvraj’s power-packed display overshadowed his poetic innings in the end for the way it was scripted. It was never unorthodox and yet, so dominating.
India’s principal batsman in the shorter versions of the game looked good for a while in the last game before throwing it away in a rush of blood. There were fewer aerial shots this time, barring a six over mid-wicket with the turn off Sanath Jayasuriya, and the booming drives delighted the spectators who were in danger of being outnumbered by seagulls when the match started.
Three crucial partnerships
Even though the target wasn’t massive and the pitch was good, India needed partnerships after losing early wickets. Yuvraj had to hang around with Rohit Sharma and his scintillating strokeplay in this 64-run stand ensured that there was no need to take chances afterwards. Things were calmer when he added 59 with Dhoni for the fifth wicket and mainly singles and twos was the feature of the sixth-wicket partnership of 58 between Dhoni and Irfan Pathan.
The reason behind Pathan’s elevation to No. 3 in the previous match wasn’t clear and it was seen on Tuesday how handy his presence could be lower down the order. It can be argued that a specialist batsman in that position could do the same job, but without getting into complications, it can be said that a player picked for his batting skills may feel out of place batting so deep. Pathan doesn’t feel as awkward at No. 7 or 8 and his sensible batting before the late lapse in concentration was a key factor.