Sri Lanka v India, Asia Cup final, Dambulla

'The guys were pumped-up to perform' - Dhoni

Siddarth Ravindran in Dambulla

June 24, 2010

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MS Dhoni lifts the Asia Cup, Sri Lanka v India, Final, Dambulla, June 24, 2010
MS Dhoni: " If we gradually improve our fielding till the World Cup, we will be a safe fielding side" © Associated Press
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The same two sides had contested the final of the Asia Cup two years ago, and the totals and margin of victory are similar to the title clash at Dambulla on Thursday. The two matches couldn't be more different though.

Sri Lanka's win had come on the back of two freakish performances - Sanath Jayasuriya's counterattacking 125 to revive them from 66 for 4, and Ajantha Mendis' star-making haul of 6 for 13 that derailed a rampant India - while MS Dhoni's side won through an array of mostly routine but important contributions from nearly everyone in the side.

Ashish Nehra may grab the headlines but his quick-bowling partners had done their bit earlier on. Praveen Kumar showed off yet again how dangerous he can be in conditions that suit him, and removed the dangerous Tillakaratne Dilshan in the first over, while Zaheer Khan tormented Upul Tharanga with sideways movement before getting him to shoulder arms to an indipper that took the offstump.

As for the batting, Dinesh Karthik was the surprise Man of the Match but five other batsmen made 25 or more to steadily drive India's total towards the zone labelled 'competitive'. For a side that has often ridden on individual brilliance and its batting arsenal, a bowler-led team-based victory in a tournament final is especially significant.

Dhoni was a pleased man after witnessing his side lift their game every time it mattered in the tournament, with the only defeat coming in the inconsequential league match against Sri Lanka. "This was a very satisfying win for us since we won three out of four games," Dhoni said. "It was an important tournament, four of the best sides were playing, and each side was quite balanced, overall happy with the performance."

With the final being played on a fresh pitch, getting to bat first proved a big advantage at a venue where the team batting second usually finds it harder to score. "The guys were pumped-up to perform. It was a good toss to win, conditions were ideal for batting," Dhoni said. "It got a bit slower as the game progressed and it started doing a bit under the lights, the fast bowlers made the most out of it."

There were some aspects of Thursday's showing that he felt needed improvement, such as the number of batsmen who didn't go on to score half-centuries after getting their eye in. "Most of us got the starts that was needed, we should have converted those starts," he said. "But if you win a game nobody questions that but it is very important to learn even if you are winning games, I still think we could have scored more runs and given the bowlers the extra cushion of 15-20 runs."

India's next limited-overs assignment is the tri-series in Dambulla, also involving New Zealand, following the Tests against Sri Lanka next month. With none of the batting youngsters having made compelling cases in the Asia Cup and the Zimbabwe series, it will be interesting to see what the pecking order is when the squad is chosen for that triangular.

Another facet that Dhoni wanted the team to improve in was fielding, which had played a key role in Sri Lanka's win in Tuesday's league game. Kumar Sangakkara's team was flat in the field during the finals, with several dropped chances and plenty of fumbles in the outfield.

Kris Srikkanth, the Indian chairman of selectors, had said the players' fitness and fielding levels had been looked into while picking the squad for the tournament, and the team has also shown a renewed focus on fielding during their practice sessions. "We need to improve our fielding, but one good thing, we had a few youngsters who did really well, so we don't really have to hide too many in this side," Dhoni said. "All our fielders are not brilliant but it was good in this series, if we gradually improve our fielding till the World Cup, we will be a safe fielding side, and fielding really contributes in one-dayers."

Click here to listen to excerpts of Dhoni's press conference

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo

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