Sri Lanka win the Asia Cup
Sri Lanka 228 for 9 (Atapattu 65, Sangakkara 53) beat India 203 for 9 (Tendulkar 74) by 25 runs
Sri Lanka underscored their supremacy at home with a 25-run win over India to win the Asia Cup in style. The R Premadasa stadium reaffirmed its status as one of Sri Lanka's safe houses. You can seemingly do what you like, but once Sri Lanka have a score on the board - and it may be as low as 228 - they defend it tooth and nail. They have all the weapons they need in a canny left-arm seamer, a vicious off-spinner and a host of other spinners who seem born to deny batsmen the space and time needed to score. India began their innings needing to score at 4.58 runs per over to win and by the 40th over the asking rate reached 8.9. And soon, they were put out of their misery.
When Marvan Atapattu won the toss and unhesitatingly chose to bat, India's chances of winning the Asia Cup receded ever so slightly. Soon, Irfan Pathan, in his exuberant manner, did his bit to level the odds with a fine first spell that got rid of the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya, trapped in front of the stumps (28 for 1). Ashish Nehra, one of two other left-arm fast bowlers in the Indian line-up, did his bit by removing Avishka Gunawardene (31 for 2).
Then, just when India sniffed a chance of kicking Sri Lanka when they were down, Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara came together in a match-winning 116-run partnership for the third wicket that took Sri Lanka out of the woods. An already slow pitch grew steadily slower and lower and the spinners began to come to the fore.
But Atapattu showed the way, putting behind the niggling self-doubts that would have been caused when he survived a confident shout for lbw early on. Twin drives on either side of the bowler, all along the turf, played with the full face of the bat, left fielders with no chance and the packed house at the Premadasa stadium increasing their already-earsplitting support of the home team.
Sangakkara had his own share of luck, but to his credit, toughed it out to make an invaluable 53. First, he was dropped on 6 by VVS Laxman at second slip when a flashing drive off Zaheer Khan only resulted in an edge. Two carved boundaries through point, one crunching cut off Harbhajan Singh and a forceful pick-up shot over midwicket signalled Sangakkara's ability to put the chance behind him. However, on 38, Sangakkara was left stranded mid-pitch when he played the ball down to short third man and thought about pinching a single. Lakshmipathy Balaji, on the field as a substitute, fired the throw in at near-yorker length and Dravid failed to collect. But it was third-time lucky for the Indians when Sehwag got a ball to sneak past Sangakkara's bat and kiss the outside of the off stump (147 for 3).
At this stage it became clear that the fancy totals of 270 and 280 that were freely bandied around by pundits was not on the cards. Tendulkar (2 for 40) and Sehwag (1 for 32) did a fine job in tandem, and Sri Lanka only managed 228 for 9 from their 50 overs.
India's run chase began as a mirror image of Sri Lanka's. Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa bowled to the field set to them, put the ball in the right places, took the pace off the ball, and got rid of two batsmen with only 26 on the board. Virender Sehwag was trapped in front by Vaas while Ganguly's nibble at a ball was exhilaratingly snatched at slip by Mahela Jayawardene.
With Sehwag the powerhouse back in the hutch India shifted to the lowest gear. Tendulkar battled for survival, only chancing his arm when the ball begged to be hit, and VVS Laxman tried to find his groove. Laxman could not have chosen a worse match to feel his way back into international cricket after an injury. He batted 34 balls for 12, but the boundaries simply were not forthcoming and his attempt to manufacture a shot only ended in his spooning the simplest of chances to Tillakaratne Dilshan off Jayasuriya (62 for 3). Rahul Dravid, India's crisis man, got off to a fine start under the circumstances, stealing singles to the keep the strike rotating. Then, with 16 to his name he shaped to cut Upul Chandana and Dilshan snapped up a sharp chance at slip after a quick juggle (96 for 4).
Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, heroes of many an Indian run-chase, came and went without much impact. Yuvraj struggled to get the ball away, repeatedly sweeping and missing till he waltzed down the track and was clean bowled by Chandana (119 for 5). Kaif attempted an ambitious chip before he got his eye in and only holed out to long off (135 for 6). Chandana ended with 3 for 33 from 10 overs of innocuous-looking yet deadly legbreaks.
But surely, while there was Tendulkar there was still hope. After Billy Bowden repeatedly reprieved Tendulkar on close shouts, his painful innings of 74 (100 balls, 7 fours, 1 six) came to an end when he was bowled through the gate by Dilshan. India were 140 for 7 needing 99 from 64 balls, and were dead and buried. The match ground to its inevitable end, only delayed by some old-fashioned slogging from Zaheer.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.