Commonwealth Bank Series / Features

India v Sri Lanka, CB Series, 5th match, Canberra

The lion roars, finally

Sri Lanka's first win of any significance on this tour couldn't have come at a better moment: it will lift the morale of a side that was seemed to be on the slide with one resounding defeat after another

S Rajesh

February 12, 2008

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Tillakaratne Dilshan did a task he hasn't always performed in the past - seeing his side past the finish line © Getty Images
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Since October 2007, Sri Lanka have spent a month and a half, spread over two instalments, in Australia and apart from a couple of moments of individual brilliance, given their supporters little to cheer about. Their first win of any significance on this tour couldn't have come at a better moment: it will lift the morale of a side that was seemed to be on the slide with one resounding defeat after another, and equally importantly, it throws open a triangular tournament that has seldom seen a three-horse race in recent times.

It might be argued that the Sri Lankans were helped by the shortened game - it gave their batsmen, some of whom weren't in form, the license to hit out from the start - but they comprehensively beat an opposition who are the world champions at the shortest version of the game. That can't be a bad thing for a side which has had little to celebrate in Australia.

Player for player, the Sri Lankan team has the skill and experience to challenge any opposition. The batting seems, on paper at least, to be the superb blend of experience and youth: the explosiveness of Sanath Jayasuriya complemented perfectly the class of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chamara Silva add a dash of pizazz. The bowing is, arguably, even more varied and classy, with Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan being helped along by a group of promising young fast bowlers. Despite all the individual brilliance, Sri Lanka's results on this tour have been disappointing.

Even in this victory at the Manuka Oval, the bowlers were less than convincing, leaking far too many runs at the end: add the 65 runs in the last six overs today to the 105 in the last ten against India at the Gabba, and Sri Lanka have conceded 170 runs in 16 slog overs against India. The batsmen, though, were up to the task: once the rain reduced the contest to a 21-over bash, they had no option but to launch an offensive from the start, which clearly simplified the situation for them.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni made it a point to mention after the match that the mindset of the batsmen would have been different had it been a 29-over run-chase, but it's unlikely Jayasuriya would have altered his style much. The Australians have worked out the way to bowl to him - just short of a length, into the body, to cramp him for room - but Sreesanth clearly hasn't got the hang of that technique yet: in the 52 balls he has bowled to Jayasuriya in all ODIs, he has been spanked for 84 runs, with just one dismissal.

It's a match-up Jayasuriya relishes, even if he is out of form; the next time India take the field against Sri Lanka, it might not be a bad idea for Dhoni to hold Sreesanth back till Jayasuriya is out. His blitz gave Sri Lanka an early cushion, but they still had plenty to do when he left, needing 109 from 17.1 overs. Dilshan was largely instrumental in ensuring they reached the target without any hiccups.

Since he made his debut in 1999, Dilshan has been seen as a big factor in the Sri Lankan middle order. He is 31, and has played 134 ODIs, but still hasn't married consistency to the flair that he undoubtedly has - in 21 innings from the 2007 World Cup, he had only topped fifty twice before today's effort. His tendency for expansive strokes could have cost him early on in this innings as well, but once he settled down, it was easy to see why he is so highly rated. Importantly, he did a task he hasn't always performed in the past - seeing his side past the finish line.

Sri Lanka's win will have lifted their morale, but they need to ensure the momentum is maintained through the rest of the competition, in 50-over contests which will require their batsmen to pace their innings and bat longer, and for their bowlers to sustain their intensity over three-and-a-half hours. Their next challenge is a mighty one, against a team they haven't challenged so far, on one of the newly laid pitches at Perth which promises plenty of pace and bounce. It's a daunting task, but for inspiration they only need to look at what happened the last time a team from the subcontinent took on the home side in an international game at that venue.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.
Tournament Results
Australia v India at Brisbane - Mar 4, 2008
India won by 9 runs
Australia v India at Sydney - Mar 2, 2008
India won by 6 wickets (with 25 balls remaining)
Australia v Sri Lanka at Melbourne - Feb 29, 2008
Sri Lanka won by 13 runs
India v Sri Lanka at Hobart - Feb 26, 2008
India won by 7 wickets (with 106 balls remaining)
Australia v India at Sydney - Feb 24, 2008
Australia won by 18 runs
More results »
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