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India?s one-man compass

Several times during the day on Monday, Sri Lanka would have wished they were somewhere else; in the crowded markets of Colombo, in one of the fabulous resorts in Bentota, by the old estates in Kandy, anywhere really.

india Updated: Mar 12, 2003 12:39 IST

Several times during the day on Monday, Sri Lanka would have wished they were somewhere else; in the crowded markets of Colombo, in one of the fabulous resorts in Bentota, by the old estates in Kandy, anywhere really.

Everybody has bad days occasionally but on the field and in the mind, Sri Lanka had an unusually wretched one. There was nothing familiar about what they did at the Wanderers.

It began with the toss, a good one to win, and their inexplicable decision to field first.

The numbers suggested that the teams batting second do well and there was the possibility of a thunderstorm.

But on a must-win day the security of runs in the bank takes precedence and this was a beautiful wicket to bat first on. Sourav Ganguly might have contemplated sending Jayasuriya a thank-you card.

Then they ran into the master and the willing pupil. There is something different about Tendulkar's demeanour at this World Cup.

He is hungry and though he speaks little, he conveys much. Ganguly may be captain, and he is leading the team well, but Tendulkar is the compass that the team is following.

He took first strike again and had several conversations with Sehwag, whom he rates highly. Sehwag's impetuosity found an anchor and though he is still some distance away from his best, he attacked judiciously.

The missed hundred will hurt Tendulkar briefly, not because it was a landmark missed, but because he let that influence the Indian innings.

Still, India got 292, 30 more than Sri Lanka would have liked, 20 less than India were on course for.

Sri Lanka are three bowlers short at this Cup and that must be the most worrying aspect. On Monday, Vaas and Murali took five for 80 from 20 overs and saw the other 30 produce one for 199.

Then, after losing an early wicket they sent Jehan Mubarak in to face the music. It was an indication that the seniors were abdicating responsibility.

It should have been Sangakkara, a fine fighting cricketer experiencing a little dip in fortunes caused by batting too low in the order.

And sadly, Mahela Jayawardene, the best young batsman in the world, seems to be up against a firing squad every day. Either he must play shots from up the order or not play at all. Crossroads are cruel but they must be encountered.

India are motoring at the moment and they are finding different men putting their hands up.

That is a captain's dream and Ganguly would secretly have been delighted by the fact that Srinath asked for an extra over at the end of his first spell.

And whatever India did to get the fielding standards up must be repeated. India are far too inconsistent to be a champion side and surely they must be aware that against England and against Sri Lanka it was an inspired moment in the field that set the tempo.

India are looking very sharp and that is not something you could have said about them at the start of the tournament.

First Published: Mar 12, 2003 00:07 IST