India win by four wickets as Sri Lanka go out of the NatWest
For a side that had to win this match to maintain a chance of reaching the final, Sri Lanka produced a totally inept batting performance, only to fight back well with the ball to keep their hopes alive to the very end. Well though India bowled on a pitch offering considerable help to the seam bowlers, a succession of batsmen did nothing to help by playing what could only be described as injudicious and technically inadequate strokes to end the innings on 187 with ten balls unused. At the fall of Sachin Tendulkar's wicket, however, Sri Lanka were right back in it, only to run out of fire power as India won, slightly nervously, by four wickets with 11 balls to spare.
Sanath Jayasuriya began the Sri Lankan innings by continuing in the form he had re-discovered against England at Headingley. The second ball he received from Zaheer Khan was short and very wide of the off stump. The Sri Lankan captain launched himself at it with a cut that took the ball several rows back into the crowd at point for an extraordinary six.
At the other end, Ashish Nehra was finding considerable lateral movement with the ball and had Jayasuriya dropped at second slip by Dinesh Mongia as he slashed yet again. However, Nehra got his revenge when Jayasuriya again waved his bat outside the off stump only to get a bottom edge that dragged the ball onto his wicket.
Three overs later, Ajit Agarkar was introduced into the attack and with his first ball induced Romesh Kaluwitharana to chase a wide one and edge to the wicket-keeper. Kaluwitharana looks a mere shadow of the batsmen who terrorised attacks a few years ago and is doing little for the Sri Lankan cause.
It was left to Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene to apply more conventional technique to the art of batting as they revived the innings with a fifty partnership with elegant rather than excessive strokes to stabilise the position for Sri Lanka.
After Marvan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene had added 84 for the third wicket, albeit from 118 balls, both batsmen were dismissed in the space of nine balls bowled by Anil Kumble. With the score on 125, Jayawardene gave himself room to hit Kumble inside-out over the covers only to give Ashish Nehra a catch at long off.
Atapattu went to his fifty from 70 balls, but before his score had advanced he was beaten in the flight to be bowled by Anil Kumble with a ball that might have just come back into the batsman off the pitch.
There was an obvious need for Sri Lanka to rebuild once again rather than pressing on, even though their scoring rate was well below what they might have wanted. However, Avishka Gunawardene tried to pull Khan to mid-wicket but only succeeded in offering a simple catch to backward point, Thilan Samaraweera heaved what might charitably be described as a drive to slip and Russel Arnold sacrificed his wicket. A push to backward point, a hesitation and a throw from Yuvraj Singh to the bowler's end left him stranded out of the frame.
Chaminda Vaas slashed and thrashed to some effect, hitting four boundaries from 20 balls in his innings of 26 before one more slog to deep extra cover brought about his downfall. Upul Chandana tamely chipped Ajit Agarkar to mid-off in his first back and Pramodya Wickramasinghe was run out by Yuvraj again to bring the innings to a premature and most unsatisfactory close.
For the second time in consecutive matches, India found themselves a wicket down from the first ball of the innings. At Chester-le-Street it was Sourav Ganguly; this time Virender Sehwag was beaten neck and crop by the first ball from Vaas to be bowled. Things could have got worse for India because Ganguly was adjudged not to have got a touch to the last ball of that over as it brushed something on its way through to the wicket-keeper, and the same batsman was dropped by Chandana at backward point in the following over bowled by Dilhara Fernando.
Having dropped that sharp but eminently catchable chance, Chandana was forced to watch as Ganguly and Mongia went about the task of stabilising the innings. They could do so without undue concern about the run rate because of the low target. However, the batsmen were also aware that the ball was still seaming about.
Lateral movement had little to do with the dismissal of Mongia when the score had reached 30 in the 13th over. He shaped to turn Vaas to leg, but got a leading edge that sent the ball ballooning to Jayasuriya's right at mid-off where he held a good catch low down. Vaas ended the over with a loud appeal against Tendulkar as the ball narrowly missed the edge of the bat but brushed the thigh on its way through to Kaluwitharana. It was a cracking delivery, but a little high for an lbw decision.
Ganguly's luck finally ran out in the next over, with Kaluwitharana involved again. Ganguly edged Wickramasinghe to slip where Jayawardene only parried the ball, but straight to the wicket-keeper who completed the catch. Suddenly the Sri Lankan total took on a greater magnitude and, not for the first time in his career, much rested on the shoulders of Tendulkar.
So often in the past he has carried the team through whatever crisis it faced, but this time it was not to be. He chipped an easy catch to Fernando at backward point off Chandana only to see the fielder make an awful mess of it. Both Sri Lankans would have been all too aware of each other's feelings. However, Fernando was brought into the attack next over and his first ball brought about the end of Tendulkar as he pushed a catch into the covers.
As ever when a batsman of Tendulkar's stature goes cheaply, nerves were now jangling. They were not eased when Rahul Dravid tried to turn Fernando to leg, and sent a leading edge into the covers into the hands of Arnold. Sri Lankan celebrations were truncated when it was noticed that the umpire had signalled a no ball for over-stepping.
By such slender margins are matches won and lost. Dravid went on in company with Yuvraj Singh to fashion a recovery that led India towards victory. Both usually free-scoring batsmen took their time as the situation demanded. Having halted the fall of wickets, Yuvraj did greet Jayasuriya into the attack by hoisting him for six over long-on and expanding his repertoire. Not all the runs came off the middle of the bat, but they all counted towards the total that was getting ever closer to the target.
Sri Lanka needed wickets and brought Vaas back. He continued to pose a threat to the batsmen but failed to make the breakthrough and the other bowlers lacked the penetration or accuracy to maintain the pressure that might lead to a mistake.
When that mistake eventually came, it was too late to affect the outcome of the match. Yuvraj sliced a Fernando full-toss to Chandana at backward point after the fifth wicket partnership had realised 91 runs in 20 overs.
Dravid went on to his fifty from 82 balls with a six and four fours and appeared destined to be there at the end when the victory he had worked so hard to earn was achieved. He would have been had a direct throw from Fernando not run him out when just nine runs were required, but he had done enough to earn the man of the match award and could watch as Chandana bowled a wide with the scores level to end the game. It was the 13th wide bowled by Sri Lanka along with five no balls and it does not take an acute cricketing brain to work out that such generosity to the opposition does not make it easy to defend a small total.