A mixed bag for India in ODIs in Sri Lanka
With the proliferation of one-day tournaments and with Australia having successfully shown the way, triangular and four nation competitions became the order of the day in the nineties. Sri Lanka were not far behind in realising the lucrative nature of such tournaments and with the backing of sponsors, the first Singer World Series was held in September 1994, with India, Australia and Pakistan being the contestants besides the hosts.
This was the time when Md Azharuddin could do little wrong and the series ended in triumph for India. With a record of one win (against Australia), one loss (against Sri Lanka) and one no result (against Pakistan), India finished with three points and qualified for the final against Sri Lanka who had won all their group matches. And here India turned the tables on Sri Lanka winning by six wickets.
Actually, considering the formidable opposition, India's victory was a bit of a surprise. Pakistan, who had just crushed Sri Lanka in the Tests and the one day internationals were the favourites while Australia too was a highly rated side. But Pakistan lost both their games and the no result against India meant that they finished at the bottom of the points table. Australia, about to tour Pakistan, appeared to regard the tournament as practice. The Indians, then in the middle of a golden run, maintained their focus and emerged deserving champions.
From India's viewpoint the major individual highlight was the maiden ODI century by Sachin Tendulkar. Playing his 78th match, he hit 110 off 132 balls against Australia. The tournament itself was marred by foul weather. Besides the India-Pakistan match being washed out, three other games were hit by rain. Both the matches involving Sri Lanka and India, including the final, were decided on 25 overs.
India did not fare as well in the next Singer Cup competition in Sri Lanka, two years later. This time, besides India and the hosts, Australia and Zimbabwe were the participants. By this time, Sri Lanka were the world champions and were hot favourites. But a keen fight for the runner-up spot between Australia and India was on the cards.
Things moved, more or less, according to the form book. Sri Lanka won all their group matches with a degree of comfort and it was obvious by now that the game between Australia and India would decide the team to meet the hosts in the title clash. Australia won a close match by three wickets but were no match for Sri Lanka in the final.
This was Tendulkar's maiden outing as captain and in his first match as leader, he scored 110 against Sri Lanka to dispel any doubts that captaincy would have an adverse impact on his batting. But there was precious little else for the Indians to savour. For Sri Lanka, however the result confirmed their status as world champions and Aravinda de Silva had a marvellous tournament. He scored 49 not out, 83 not out, 127 not out and 75 not out for a total of 334 runs without once being dismissed.
The next one-day tournament India played in Sri Lanka was the Asia Cup in 1997. This preceded their tour of the island nation. Again it was taken for granted that Sri Lanka would enter the final which made the game between India and Pakistan all important with Bangladesh being there just to make up the numbers. Unfortunately, only nine overs could be bowled because of rain and the no result put additional pressure on India in their rain affected game against Bangladesh. To enter the final, India had to reach a target of 131 runs from 20 overs. This they did in style however, getting the runs off only 15 overs for the loss of one wicket. But in the final they were no match for the world champions who romped home by eight wickets.
A year later, India were back in Sri Lanka to play for the Singer-Akai Nidahas Trophy. By now there were definite chinks in Sri Lanka's armour and with New Zealand the only other side in the competition, India were optimistic about their chances with Azharuddin having regained the captaincy and Tendulkar free to concentrate on his batting. India duly emerged triumphant but the main topic of the competition was the rain. As many as five of the scheduled nine matches were abandoned, including all three to be played at Galle in which not a ball could be bowled. India's three scheduled games against New Zealand were all abandoned. In the four remaining matches, Sri Lanka defeated New Zealand twice and India once while India beat Sri Lanka once. So predictably enough, it was another India-Sri Lanka final.
India were well served by the Ganguly-Tendulkar duo. Approaching their peak as a world class opening pair, the two had partnerships of 115 off 17.4 overs and 252 off 44 overs against Sri Lanka, the second being notched up in the final and remaining till today a record in ODIs. Ganguly scored 109 and Tendulkar 128.
Despite the excellent start given by Ganguly and Tendulkar which led to India scoring 307 for six in 50 overs, the final victory margin was only six runs for a spirited Sri Lankan side got to 301 before they were all out with three balls left. Aravinda de Silva continued to be the scourge of Indian bowling by getting 105 off 94 balls but the contribution of Ajit Agarkar (4 for 53) proved vital in the end.
The last one-day competition India played in Sri Lanka has been the AIWA Cup in August 1999. This time the competition was pretty stiff for besides the hosts, always strong on home ground, the other team in the fray was Australia, fresh from winning the World Cup in England. Australia were then the clear favourites and this meant that the games between Sri Lanka and India, who had to play each other twice would be crucial.
Md Azharuddin was sacked in the wake of the World Cup debacle and Tendulkar was back for his second stint as captain. But his tenure did not have an auspicious start. For one thing, defeats in the first two matches against Sri Lanka and Australia meant that the Indians were down and virtually out. Too much would now depend on run calculations. Secondly, on the eve of the team's third match against Australia, Tendulkar's back injury flared up again. He sat out the game and saw his team go down to a third successive defeat.
Everything now depended on the return game against Sri Lanka. Putting aside his back problems Tendulkar not only took the field but led from the front. He scored 120 and saw his team score 296 for four in 50 overs. To qualify for the final, Sri Lanka now required to score 271 in 50 overs. Rain however altered the target to 232 in 42 overs. Finally, amidst much excitement, Sri Lanka got 247 for nine in 42 overs to make the title clash even though India won the match by 23 runs. In the final the former world champions surprised the present world champions by eight wickets.