Batting might sees India into final
For the second day in succession, a target of 309 was overhauled without much trouble. Each of India's batsmen played their part as India reached the final with a convincing six-wicket win over Sri Lanka. Muttiah Muralitharan was the only bowler to unsettle the batsmen but, with little support from the rest, India triumphed with 19 balls to spare.
In contrast to their bowling effort, four of Sri Lanka's top six made significant contributions to help them post an imposing total. However, having already qualified for the final, they rested the experienced Chaminda Vaas as well as their new spin sensation Ajantha Mendis, a decision that worked in India's favour.
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag provided their now-familiar blazing start as India started their chase in earnest. It wasn't an all-out assault from them. Runs were scored with a combination of well-timed boundaries and a host of sharp singles - even Sehwag's six over midwicket was an effortless pick-up off his pads. In fact, the only shot in the first Powerplay, based on brute force, was an on-drive from Gambhir off Nuwan Kulasekara in the 10th over.
With little in the pitch for the fast bowlers, the openers were only troubled when taking some ill-judged singles. Gambhir demonstrated his confidence level by repeatedly charging the fast bowlers while Sehwag nonchalantly pulled even length deliveries to midwicket. Though India had raced to 71 in the first 10 overs, Jayawardene decided to take the second Powerplay. The decision seemed to backfire as 21 runs came off the next nine balls but the breakthrough came when Sehwag tapped a slower ball down leg side to Dilhara Fernando at short fine leg.
Suresh Raina started off with a confident pull to midwicket but was fortunate to see a lofted drive dropped by substitute Jehan Mubarak at cover. He and Gambhir took India to 135 before Gambhir was trapped lbw for 68, failing to pick a straighter one from Murali. Dhoni promoted himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh probably to ensure two left-handers didn't have to deal with the wiles of Murali.
Dhoni hardly showed any effects of having kept in back-to-back matches and playing a long innings yesterday as he and Raina scampered quick singles and twos. He started out cautiously before opening out after the 30th over - four fours (including a powerful, fine paddle-sweep off Murali) and a six came in the next four overs as the required-rate dipped to manageable levels.
Raina was run out soon after when going for a tight third and Dhoni was foxed by a quicker one from Murali to leave India with two new batsmen at the crease, and 56 runs in the arrears. Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma, though, settled India's nerves with a composed partnership and set up a rematch in Sunday's final.
Unlike the Sri Lankan bowlers, India started off well as the new-ball bowlers turned in a much-improved performance, so much so that the first convincing boundary came only in the seventh over.
Ishant Sharma was the pick of the bowlers, exploiting the variable bounce in the pitch and effectively using the slower ball to trouble the batsmen. In one of cricket's typical quirks, amid an excellent spell, Ishant got his wickets off two of the worst deliveries he sent down - both short and down the leg side.
His opening partner RP Singh was also economical and Sri Lanka were limited to 39 for 1 after eight. The introduction of Irfan Pathan, though, let them off the hook as 26 came off his two overs. Sanath Jayasuriya had just switched to fifth gear before gloving one to Dhoni off Ishant. With the pitch easing up, Jayawardene and Kapugedera collected the singles against the spinners while punishing the loose deliveries from the faster bowlers to put on 78. Kapugedera, in particular, was impressive with a series of classical off-driven boundaries early on.
Risk-free batting took Jayawardene on to his half-century but he perished soon after as he stepped out and chipped Pragyan Ojha straight to long-off. Kapugedera was next to go, trapped lbw by Praveen, but not before he added 68 with Chamara Silva. Silva used the cut and sweep shots well against the spinners to make a well-deserved fifty and cameos from Kaushalya Weeraratne and Thilan Thushara pushed Sri Lanka beyond 300.
India's cause wasn't helped by their fielding, which has been below par right through the Asia Cup - catches were misjudged, dives at the boundary rarely saved the fours and several run-out opportunities were spurned. Ultimately, though, their batting covered up the deficiencies in the other departments to take them to the final at the expense of Pakistan.
Siddarth Ravindran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo