Fumbles prove costly for slapdash India
Two matches into the Asia Cup, India have already made a rich contribution to the tournament's blooper bank: two collisions, one bowler taken out of the attack for bowling two high full-tosses, four dropped catches and a missed stumping.
Six of those eight moments came against Sri Lanka. All of them added up. In a match of wafer-thin margins, in which an edged boundary from Sri Lanka's No. 10 may have had a substantial impact on the result, the errors from India were so plentiful they must have wondered if they had let a big win slip.
In the end, things became particularly slippery when Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, struggling to grip a ball drenched in dew, bowled nine full-tosses in the last five overs. Had India taken their chances before that, the dew might not have proved such a decisive factor.
"We could have played smarter cricket," captain Virat Kohli said after the match. "If you see some of the decisions also, they went against us. In the first two overs [of Sri Lanka's innings] itself there were two lbw shouts that were very close, and then we also missed chances. That happens in cricket, getting a favourable decision or not, but the chances that we get, we should at least hold on to. I think that hurt us. But overall, I think we didn't play as smartly as we had done against Bangladesh."
In that match, the mistakes didn't really cost India. Varun Aaron was forcibly removed from the attack, but it was quite conceivable he may not have bowled for too much longer, considering how expensive he had been. Mohammed Shami's bones may have hurt a little when he crunched into Ambati Rayudu while trying to catch Shamsur Rehman, but he came away with the ball.
Against Sri Lanka, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan were left both red-faced and empty-handed when they went for the same catch. Fielders colliding twice in two matches might be a coincidence, or it might be evidence of sloppy calling.
Kusal Perera was on 7 at that point. He went on to make 64, but not before surviving another missed chance when Ravindra Jadeja dropped him in the deep on 36. Jadeja deserved full marks for effort, running in from deep midwicket and throwing himself forward, but he would have been disappointed with himself for letting the ball pop out when his elbows hit the ground. Once he'd done all the hard work, he would have expected to complete the task. He had dropped another catch a little while before that, an even harder one, diving to his right from cover to intercept a well-struck cover drive from Lahiru Thirimanne.
The openers put on 80. When Ashwin dismissed Kusal, Sri Lanka's score had moved to 134, and they needed less than six an over to win. Two wickets from Ravindra Jadeja then dragged India back into the game.
It could, however, have been three wickets to Jadeja and potentially game over; Dinesh Karthik fluffed up a stumping in a manner that must have been hilarious to everyone bar the die-hard India fan. Karthik must have felt more than a touch uneasy when he felt the swish of thin air against his gloves, and positively ill when the third umpire confirmed that Kumar Sangakkara had got back in his crease by the time he'd taken the bails off with his second attempt.
Sangakkara was on 30. He went on to make 103. Sri Lanka won with two wickets in hand and four balls to spare. And India still had time to miss another chance, Dhawan dropping a dolly at mid-off to let off Thisara Perera when Sri Lanka needed one run.
"Even in the last ball, you never know," Kohli said. "They needed one run and if had taken that catch we could have probably got Malinga out."
With the bat, Kohli said India could have scored 25-30 runs more if the batsmen had played more responsibly.
"I think when we were batting, those three wickets that fell - I think it was Shikhar, Rahane and Dinesh Karthik. We lost them in quick succession, in [the space of] about 20-25 runs. I think that was something that really hurt us during our batting because we were 175-odd for 2. From there on I think we were in a position to get to 300, but we lost those three quick wickets."
At that point, with India 175 for 2 with 15 overs remaining, Rahane tried to hit Sachithra Senanayake over cover and sliced the ball to backward point. Four overs later, Karthik arrived at the crease following the dismissal of Dhawan. Third ball, he went for a full-blooded pull off Ajantha Mendis and top-edged a catch to mid-off.
The pull isn't a bad shot on a slow pitch, and he might not have picked the carrom ball out of Mendis' hand, but he should have been expecting it, having seen how he had taken his first two wickets. It might have been a little too early in his innings to attempt such an expansive shot anyway.
Dhawan's 94 would have provided the batsmen waiting their turn enough clues to how the pitch was behaving. It hadn't been a typical Dhawan innings, because he had recognised it wasn't possible to play his usual game when the ball simply wasn't coming on to the bat. He had played within himself, and waited for opportunities to pierce the off-side field when the bowlers gave him room.
After India's win against Bangladesh, Rahane had said the pitch was particularly difficult for a new batsman to score runs on. And so it proved against Sri Lanka, after the loss of those three wickets. Ambati Rayudu struggled to get to grips with the conditions, Stuart Binny fell by the wayside, and India's new-look middle order ended up looking bad.
Binny's contribution, in the end, amounted to a four-ball duck and four unthreatening overs full of leg-side singles. At the presser, Kohli was asked whether he should have picked a third seamer or a third spinner in Aaron's place rather than Binny.
Kohli's explanation, that India had wanted to beef up their batting, made sense in theory, considering the inexperience of the other middle-order batsmen. But an extra specialist bowler, in hindsight, may well have proved more useful. But such questions may have been superfluous had India taken their chances.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo