March 10, 2003

India cruise into semi-finals against abject Sri Lanka

India's presence in the World Cup semi-finals was confirmed on Monday after a compelling performance against Sri Lanka at The Wanderers.

During the first innings India's openers, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, laid the foundations of an imposing 292 total with a blazing 153 run stand for the first wicket.

India's fast bowlers, led by Man of the Match Javagal Srinath, then produced inspired spells in the afternoon as Sri Lanka were bowled out for a pathetic 109 in 23 overs that included five ducks.

India's second Super Six win leaves them level with Australia on 16 points, guaranteeing them a place in the semi-finals no matter the result in their final match against New Zealand.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, currently on 7.5 points, after two crushing defeats in the space of four days, must win against Zimbabwe to have a chance of qualifying.

Even if they do win - a result that cannot be guaranteed, even anticipated, after such an abject performance today - they could be denied by another Kenya upset or New Zealand winning both their games against India and Australia.

Fortunately, Sri Lanka have until Saturday to sift through the debris of such a confidence crushing defeat. Top of the list of priorities will be their decision-making, with their decision to bowl first a topic of debate throughout the day.

After heavy rains over the weekend the Sri Lankans had hoped to exploit some early moisture but Tendulkar and Sehwag never let that happen, quickly asserting their authority as 70 runs from the first ten overs.

Jayasuriya - who played despite clearly being handicapped by a badly bruised forearm and chipped left finger - defended his decision afterwards, claiming it was "the right decision if we bowled in the right areas."

There was some truth in that but Sri Lanka's key victories in the opening round had come batting first and with a fragile middle order they currently appear a stronger side defending targets with the bowlers better able to absorb pressure.

Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan proved effective, taking five wickets for 80 runs in 20 overs, but the support bowling was dealt with severely, especially the overawed Prabath Nissanka, who conceded 49 runs from just six overs.

But then the Indian batting, especially Sachin Tendulkar, was superb, providing further evidence to the increasingly popular opinion that only they have the batting firepower to upset the all-conquering Australians.

Tendulkar missed out on his 35th one-day century when he was caught off bat, arm and shoulder for his 97 from 120 balls, the second time he has been dismissed in the 90's in the tournament, but he did at least have the satisfaction of breaking his own record for the most runs in a World Cup.

The 29-year-old, this tournament's highest run scorer by a Himalayan mile, has already compiled 562 runs, surpassing the 523 he scored during the 1996 competition.

He was well supported by his clone, Sehwag, who alleviated some of the pressure mounting on his shoulders with his maiden World Cup fifty, a surprisingly sedate 66 from 76 balls that including three sixes.

Unfortunately for India, although ultimately of no serious consequence, his first World Cup landmark prompted a rush of blood and he celebrated with two sixes off Jayasuriya before unwisely attempting to clear the boundary again against Muralitharan.

Sourav Ganguly snuffed out Sri Lankan hopes of a clatter of wickets, with the India skipper easing to 48 from 53 balls, but Sri Lanka did pull themselves back into the game, thanks, almost entirely, to the efforts of Vaas and Muralitharan.

In the end, after the 153 opening stand for the first wicket, Sri Lanka would have gladly traded for the final score of 292 when 300 plus target looked on the cards. Nevertheless, 292 proved plenty.almost wasteful extravagance.

It was Srinath who started Sri Lanka's capitulation, inviting a loose drive from the inform Marvan Atapattu with his third delivery and going on to take three wickets in his first 10 deliveries.

Strangely, almost inexplicably, Sri Lanka then sent in Jehan Mubarak at number three despite the 22-year-old having not played a single game in the tournament thus far. He lasted just two balls before edging behind.

Even more strangely, despite Jayasuriya's pre-match assertion that he would drop down the order, the virtually run-less Mahela Jayawardene was sent in next ahead of Aravinda de Silva.

He lasted just four balls before shuffling across his stumps and being trapped lbw by a good delivery from Zaheer Khan. When De Silva was also trapped lbw, in Srinath's second over, Sri Lanka were 15 for four.

Jayasuriya, who was administered pain killers in the mid-innings break and appeared to be hampered by his injuries, scored 12 from 19 deliveries before mistiming an attempted cut and being caught at cover.

Kumar Sangakkara, the innings top scorer with 30 from 33 balls, fought back briefly before being caught at cover point. When Russel Arnold, the last recognised batsman, was trapped lbw, Sri Lanka were 77 for seven and the game was over.

Muralitharan cheered the crowd with some comical batting at the close, carrying Sri Lanka past their lowest score against India and into three figures, but it will take more than comedy to lift the spirits of Sri Lanka' s dressing room after their second drumming in four days.