India v Sri Lanka, CB Series, 5th ODI, Canberra February 12, 2008

Two shades of a plan

Tillakaratne Dilshan's match-winning 62 was more important in the match context than Rohit Sharma's unbeaten 70, which had the aesthetic value; while Rohit set up the contest, Dilshan ended it


Tillakaratne Dilshan had the advantage of knowing exactly what Sri Lanka were chasing © Getty Images
 

A match shortened by the weather still had time for two innings which, though contrasting in terms of style, were similar in that both were undefeated. Tillakaratne Dilshan's match-winning 62 was more important in the match context than Rohit Sharma's 70, which had the aesthetic value; while Rohit set up the contest, Dilshan ended it.

If Dilshan had an advantage, it lay in the fact that Sri Lanka knew what they were chasing. When Rohit was out in the middle India didn't know where they were headed; they were unsure whether to go for the slog or to hang around, settle down, and then go for the sucker punch.

Dilshan's innings, which was more cavalier than Rohit's studied knock with its occasional classical glimpses, also benefited from the fact that Sanath Jayasuriya, as Mahela Jayawardene pointed out, laid the foundation with an early blitzkrieg that brought down the asking rate for Sri Lanka to almost a run-a-ball by the fifth over of the innings. What Dilshan did was to maintain that early tempo and continue pushing back the Indian bowling, first with brave charges and later, once the target was in sight, pushing for singles and twos.

There was a longer-term significance to Dilshan's innings. He is currently in the middle of his career, and coming off a poor run of form. He was dropped from the side a couple of times last year, despite being a big team man, and didn't get to play a game on the tour of New Zealand before the World Cup. That's when Tom Moody, the Sri Lanka coach, gave him an ultimatum to tidy up.

He managed some good knocks during the World Cup but slipped again after that, returning with an 84 against England at Galle in the only Test of the series he played. He now knows that, with the emergence of Jehan Mubrak and the Chamaras, Silva and Kapugedera, he cannot take his place for granted. Today's knock, seen in that light, will settle his nerves.

Rohit, meanwhile, is at the beginning of a learning curve, and seems to be thoroughly enjoying the experience. On Sunday, he came in with the score at 4 for 96, which became 5 for 102, and with Brett Lee at his hostile best a low target suddenly acquired a new dimension. He didn't panic then, seeing India home in the company of his captain. He came in today with the openers out and less than 50 on the board. The primary responsibility for Rohit and Gautam Gambhir was to consolidate - even though there were 20 overs remaining they couldn't treat it like a Twenty20 yet. The stakes were too high.

The partnership began on a painstaking note as they kept the Sri Lankans from dominating them; even Muttiah Muralitharan was made to look innocuous. When Gambhir was out, Rohit picked up the thread with Dhoni and was busy finding singles, creating gaps, running hard, tiring the bowlers, waiting to take off. He steered and chopped for singles first and then belted the odd one. The experienced Chaminda Vaas and the tricky Lasith Malinga were not spared, not even on good balls. When Murali floated up an offbreak Sharma, his mind made up already, went down on one knee and lifted him over midwicket to the boundary.

And when Jayawardene adjusted the field, Rohit was up to the challenge. On two occasions when fine leg was brought in he moved inside the line of the ball to deflect it agonizingly past the fielder. The bowlers, Vaas and Malinga, were left to stand mid-pitch, hands on hips.

It's early days yet but India could conceive a middle order with Rohit as the pivot. Dhoni later admitted he was very happy with the way "he [Rohit] is making use of the opportunities he is getting because in India if the player doesn't perform after a few games there is not enough patience to stick with him. I'm sure he has earned himself many games".

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo