Pathan, Dhoni were standout performers
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Pathan, Dhoni were standout performers

Pathan was always good with bat and ball; Dhoni at the stumps, writes Arjuna Ranatunga.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2005 15:15 IST

The jury held Irfan Pathan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni as two standout performers for India in the series. It was a popular choice and not based on figures alone. The only time India pulled up short in Ahmedabad, Pathan did not play and Dhoni was out for nought. Otherewise, Pathan was nearly always good with bat and ball; Dhoni in front and behind the stumps.

Pathan obviously had watched the action closely while he waited for his turn to bat in the middle. He had realised that the Sri Lankans wanted to test out the top order with short-pitched deliveries. He worked out his strokes which included upper cuts over point and cover. He also hooked a six which gives the youngster an impressive array of strokes -- drives on either side of wicket, pulls and cuts and we have a proper batsman in the making. He is also so composed which is actually a reflection that the batsman has oodles of time to negotiate deliveries.

Dhoni was impressive in the way he eschews his strokes when required. He followed Pathan in the middle but didn't try to bat like him or compete with the pyrotechnics which had preceded him. It is never easy when you can hit the ball a mile. He did try to finish off the match with his signature six but by then there was little left in the game.

Flexibility, which men like Pathan and Dhoni afford, is key in one-day context and India is blessed in the knowledge that it has unearthed two match-winners.

Sachin Tendulkar, in contrast, is an interesting case profile. He began the series like the way he first picked up bat -- using his bat like a sword, a scimatar and moving on his feet like a dancer. Then followed four failures.

I watched his final innings in Baroda with interest. It was obvious that the Sri Lankans wanted to bounce him. It was also patently clear that he was not going to take them on. To me it appeared that his instincts still are trying to make a fine balance between attack and defence. It is not always possible indeed, it can confuse you.

It is here why I advocate a clever management of senior, yet essential members of the side. All this travelling, turning up for press conferences, settling in in hotels and then checking out; arrival and departure at air terminals; endless requests from fans and media, can test the freshest -- leave alone somebody who has been in circuit for a decade and a half. Tendulkar needs to be spaced out well to keep him fresh and hungry.

Another thing which I did not like about the Indians was the way they waited for things to happen after the Sri Lankans had got themselves into a tangle at 90 for 5. They did not force the issue and there was not much energy in the field. It only underlines that changes in attitude and instincts cannot be wrought overnight.

India has only begun the journey, it is an ongoing process. There is no final resting place in the field, it's only in junkyard.

Lanka's problem was usual -- the batsmen did not give the start and their bowlers could not stop the flow of runs in the initial overs. While India got about their first 100 in the 13th over, Sri Lanka took 30 overs to do it. Sri Lanka's top order was never sorted out. And without Murali, India was never going to be pressurised in the middle overs.

Defeat is never without ramifications. Sri Lankan supporters are going to debate the virtues of Sanath Jayasuriya's omission and Chaminda Vaas' elevation to vice-captaincy in coming weeks. The efficacy of bringing on youngsters has its answer only in future.

I don't think critics should read too much into Vaas' elevation as vice-captain. Mahela Jayawardene would still be up for leadership when the time comes. Vaas is a very senior pro and sometimes it is important to acknowledge their contributions and attend to their ambitions if it is genuine. I don't think it would create rift or force Kumara Sangakkara to squeal in protest.

Sri Lanka returns in a week's time and we would see how much wiser they are by the experience. I feel they wouldn't be as bad. Murali is a different proposition with fielders around the bat and batsmen would have time to build their innings. There would be lesser travelling and they also now know the conditions.

India, in contrast, would be falling back on a few other seniors who could mess up their approach in order to match the youngsters. Test cricket is still a matter of skill and experience and little less athleticism would not hurt as much.

It's time to bring the likes of Sourav Ganguly on.

First Published: Nov 13, 2005 15:15 IST