October 21, 2000

Indians were not at their competitive best

The sense of complacency seemed evident yesterday as the Sri Lankans defeated the Indians convincingly at Sharjah. The knowledge that it was not a knock out tournament gave them a sense of indifference. The manner in which Rahul Dravid was run out suggested that the Indians were definitely not at their competitive best. Apart from Tendulkar, the determination was missing somehow and the Lankans showed why they are a very good side in this format of the game.

Ganguly with a couple of tons behind him went after the bowling from the start and was patchy in his short innings. The Lankan seamers obviously were keen on keeping the ball just short of a length and eventually Vaas surprised him with a well directed short delivery to dismiss him. Dravid had a reprieve but failed to capitalise and his tenure ended with Jayasuriya effecting a direct hit from mid-on. Dravid, a committed cricketer, would not like to the replays of his dismissal. Muralitharan showed Yuvraj Singh what the big league was about by luring him into a drive to inner edge on to the stumps. The off-spinner troubled the young batsman with his guile before settling the issue in his favour.

In the meanwhile Tendulkar realised that he had to play as long as possible if the Indians were to make a match of it. In the company of Robin Singh he kept the scoreboard ticking and the fact that Tendulkar had only three fours and a six in his century is an indication how much the Lankans were in control. Gunawardene made a mess of things when he dropped a regulation catch and had he taken it the Indians would have been subjected to a humiliating defeat. Singh and Tendulkar got out in the quest for some quick runs at the death with the Indians putting up a competitive score on a pitch where stroke making was not all that easy.

The double strike by Prasad accounted for Gunawardene and Attapattu in the early overs bringing in a semblance of a chance of victory for the Indians. What made the Sri Lankans win the game was the contribution from the middle order batsmen along with Jayasuriya, the captain who played a typical innings. The partnership between Sangakkara and Arnold put paid to whatever hopes the Indians may have entertained in the middle game. Arnold in particular played positively throughout with Sangakkara providing the required support.

The lack of a fifth bowler is definitely having an impact and the reluctance of Ganguly to give Robin Singh a reasonable spell makes it difficult when the Indians defend a modest total as they did yesterday. As such the think tank has to come up with a solution to plug this rather huge void sooner that later. The Lankans exposed the bowling limitations of the Indians with precision. Kumble was expensive by his own standards and he is bound to be ineffective at times more because of lack of support from the other end. Agarkar did get a couple of wickets but conceded far too many runs in the context of the game. Zaheer Khan bowled an economical opening spell but he has to realise that yorkers are not the only means to tie the batsmen down.

In a way this defeat would serve as a remainder that the Indians have to be consistent and a team is only as good as its last game.