Yuvraj stars for India with match winning knock
In recent times, India have started one-day tournaments like champions before ending it as losers. However, in the Coca Cola Cup, they have done the opposite and, after a 46-run victory against Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club today, they look to be peaking at just the right time.
They had lost their first three games, but after successive victories against Sri Lanka they look to be on a roll. They now take on New Zealand tomorrow in what is effectively a knock out match, as the winner will proceed to the final.
Today's victory was highly impressive, as the team displayed all the fighting qualities that the Indian coach John Wright has demanded from his players. They looked down and out after slumping to 38 for four within the first hour of play.
The Indian innings, however, was transformed by Rahul Dravid (47) and Yuvraj Singh (98*), who added 102 for the fifth wicket. With enthusiastic support from Ritender Sodhi (30), they were able to post a challenging target of 227.
The Indian pace bowlers then made early inroads as Sri Lanka slipped to 24 for three in the eighth over of the innings. The middle order threatened a recovery, but were unable to turn promising stands into match winning partnerships and Sri Lanka were eventually bowled out for 181.
The one clear match winner in the game was Yuvraj Singh. Since bursting on to the international scene with an aggressive 84 against Australia in the ICC KnockOut Trophy last year, the tall left-hander had failed to fulfill the lofty expectations placed upon him by an adoring public.
Dropped for India's tour of Zimbabwe, Yuvraj handsomely repaid the faith of the selectors today - not as an opener, which is how he batted at the start of the tournament - but as a middle order batsmen. A free scoring player, he scored an unbeaten 98 from 110 deliveries and hit seven powerful boundaries. Unfortunately, he narrowly failed to score a well-deserved century, as leg cramps hampered his batting in the final stages of the innings.
Yuvraj had come to the wicket after an early flurry of wickets. Virender Shewag was trapped first ball of the match by Chaminda Vaas. Sourov Ganguly square cut uppishly to Kumar Sangakkara at backward point, who was playing in place of Avishka Gunawardene. VVS Laxman was caught at mid off and Hemang Badani nibbled at a delivery from Dilhara Fernando.
India were on the ropes at 38 for four, but Dravid and Yuvraj consolidated. Eschewing risks, but still remaining positive they steadied the innings, adding 32 runs between the 15th and 25th over of the innings. They then raised the tempo a notch in the next ten, scoring just over four runs per over.
When Dravid was stumped in the 35th over, Sodhi joined Yuvraj and the pair added 57 more runs and steadily increased the run rate. In the end India scored 97 in the final 15 overs to leave Sri Lanka with a tricky target on a sporting pitch.
They couldn't have got off to a worse start. Romesh Kaluwitharana (0) was run out for a duck and Marvan Atapattu (1) was caught behind off a good delivery from Zaheer Khan, who bowled with an extra yard of pace today despite suffering from sore shins.
Sanath Jayasuriya (10) was sent back to the pavilion in the eighth over after he was brilliantly caught at short mid wicket by Dravid who dived full length to his right. Sri Lanka were 24 for three.
Russel Arnold (21) and Mahela Jayawardene (34) steadied the innings with a 43-run stand, not without the odd alarm, before Ganguly trapped Arnold leg before wicket with a full-length inswinger.
Having had a vehement caught behind appeal turned down the previous ball, Ganguly celebrated his wicket by directing a volley of abuse towards the outgoing batsmen. Fully pumped up he had several verbal exchanges with the Sri Lankan batsmen afterwards and his behaviour unsurprisingly attracted the attention of match referee Cammie Smith, who hauled him into his office after the game.
Ganguly went on to bowl Jayawardene and Sri Lanka's hopes started to slip away. Kumar Sangakkara (18), Suresh Perera (32), and Kumar Dharmasena (27) all started well, but were unable to keep up the momentum and wickets fell regularly in the desperate search for boundaries.
The Indian team now faces a worrying wait to see whether they will be playing with their captain tomorrow. If Cammie Smith is consistent, then he could well be suspended.