It’s tempting to say that India had saved their best for the last one. Strictly literally, it would be right and wrong, because it was their last league match in the tri-series by virtue of winning which they are in the finals, thereby giving themselves at least two more matches in this eventful tour of Australia.
Tuesday’s win over Sri Lanka was achieved with a lot more to spare than what they would have thought initially, but India won a very crucial toss before that. It was a good batting wicket with moderate bounce and the dampness in it following an early morning shower proved decisive apart from some smart bowling and reckless batting.
Sri Lanka were well on course for a good score after having seen through the new ball and that they still suffered a titanic middle-order collapse was totally anti-climactic. The bowlers had been doing a decent job for India all this while and what they did in this crunch match was not radically different from what they had done earlier.
The length was not good to begin with, as Munaf Patel got it too full, but it was one of those days when keeping things simple fetched rich rewards. Praveen Kumar was certainly the man of the moment for breaking Sri Lanka’s back during a sensational period of play when everything pitched outside off seemed destined to be edged behind.
Not a matter of pace
Not a bowler with alarming pace, Kumar has been phenomenally successful in domestic cricket for a few seasons now with his ability to subtly move the ball both ways. He looks innocuous for the way he runs in and the speed he generates, but he can be a dangerous customer if he keeps probing the corridor of uncertainty. He was spot on, on Tuesday and the Sri Lankans kept poking at him at their own peril.
There was no doubt what was going to be the outcome once the islanders going at five an over nosedived to 93 for seven from 72 for one in a matter of 10 overs. Make no mistake, the bowling was not as hostile as the numbers suggest. It was pure and simple - keep it outside off and wait for the batsmen to err. They did and kept doing that, at a rate which was perhaps beyond the dream of Dhoni, who won a rare toss.
Looking for wickets
Another feature of what turned out to be the most one-sided match of this competition featuring India was the way Dhoni rotated his bowlers and kept looking for wickets. After a decent opening spell, Ishant Sharma was brought back and in sync with things that kept favouring India, he was striking and smiling.
Dhoni could have gone defensive and concentrated on containing instead of knocking them out, but he didn’t opt for that. It was clear from the ploy of fielding five bowlers that he was looking for wickets and barring the exception of Harbhajan Singh, the other four were in the attack at regular intervals.
“We had decided that against Sri Lanka we would go in with five bowlers. In the first match against them (in Brisbane), we handled their attack pretty well. And I had noticed that against them, someone or the other invariably scores. So we wanted an extra bowler against them.
“The move clicked, let’s see how we go about it in future,” said Dhoni.
Tendulkar at last
The major share of the credit for winning this match will go to the bowlers and rightly so. Something, however, should not go unnoticed. Sachin Tendulkar finally came up with an innings of substance in this tri-series, which along with the touch shown by Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, augurs well for India.
Tendulkar drove crisply square on the off side on the front foot and back foot, flicked with immaculate timing and also played an audacious inside-out lofted drive off Mutthiah Muralitharan that was a statement of intent as well as ingenuity.
He fell trying a similar one all right, but the way he dominated the attack was a treat to watch and might just silent the rumour mill for at least a few days.