India v Sri Lanka, CB Series, Perth February 8, 2012

Imperfect teams make for tight battle

The contest between India and Sri Lanka in Perth ebbed and flowed, but lacked intensity and excellence. Both teams have much improving to do if they are going to challenge Australia

Finally we have a close game this Australian summer. Not a nailbiter, but certainly the closest international of the summer. It is little surprise that it has come between two old acquaintances that take attrition to a new level whenever they come up against each other. Interestingly, and surely there will be more than a few relieved by it, this was the first game between India and Sri Lanka since their World Cup final more than 10 months ago.

While it was good to watch a close contest, the reduction in intensity and quality from the games that Australia have played in was obvious. The Sri Lanka batsmen were rusty, and their India counterparts gifted wickets generously. The second ball Virender Sehwag faced today was a length ball bowled at around 130kph, and he duly smashed it for four. He has spent the whole summer in a futile wait for one such ball.

There was something missing tonight, and while it might sound a little harsh on the two teams, that missing thing was excellence.

India contributed to making the game more interesting. Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni fell to shots they were not in a good position to execute. Four of India's six wickets fell to poorly executed aerial hits with the team under no undue pressure. The fifth, that of Virat Kohli, was a brain freeze. Kohli was cramping, and he had seen two other batsmen play irresponsibly to get out. Then he too went for a single he would have struggled to make even when fully fit.

MS Dhoni, though, said the intensity was not lacking. "Maybe because there weren't 280 runs on the board or because the match didn't go too close," Dhoni said of why people may have got the impression the match was low on energy. "At times it does look like that but I don't think that was the case. We had our own problems to deal with, like ensuring Praveen [Kumar, who began with a poor first over] got into his rhythm and bowled his full quota of 10 overs. I don't think the intensity was lacking at any point."

Sri Lanka's strategy did not work that well. They must have seen India struggle against the Australia quicks all summer, and came into the game with three fast bowlers and two medium-pace bowling allrounders. They promoted Thisara Perera to take advantage of the batting Powerplay, but that flopped too, and they ended up with 23 runs for the loss of two wickets in that crucial spell of play.

Amid all this, though, R Ashwin raised his game. He has not had a great tour of Australia, and has struggled to bowl enough good deliveries in a spell. Tonight he bowled six overs in the Powerplays, and three in the last 10. The odd short ball that kept getting punished against Australia was missing. His first over was a maiden, after which the pressure built. A wicket - Kumar Sangakkara's - came, and the level of India's fielding, which was beginning to drop, lifted again.

When he came back into the attack, Ashwin dismissed an out-of-touch Mahela Jayawardene in the first over of the batting Powerplay. The bigger wicket was Dinesh Chandimal, who was well set on 64. With perhaps his best piece of bowling of the tour, Ashwin beat Chandimal in the flight and had him stumped after the ball spun away.

Jayawardene would have loved to have had Ashwin in his side. At least he would not have been left with an all-seam attack. "We felt that the pitch was such that four seamers would probably do the job for us," he said. "Picking up wickets is very crucial against India, and we tried to do that. Ashwin bowled really well, but he is Ashwin." It was the first time in the last month and a half that Ashwin was spoken of with such deference.

Sri Lanka would have expected Lasith Malinga to be as impactful with the ball, but he had an off day. The yorkers did not come out right and he did not swing the ball much either. Even when India were throwing wickets away, Sri Lanka could not make things happen. Ashwin the batsman calmly saw India through, displaying once again the composure that has shone through for him on this tour. With he and Ravindra Jadeja putting together a partnership to steady a wobbling India, Sri Lanka did not look like a side that had taken four quick wickets and were sensing a win out of nowhere.

Perhaps Sri Lanka are yet to get used to the conditions. Perhaps India have been under the pump from Australia for too long, and could not play freely. The end product was an interesting match that ebbed and flowed, but this tournament needs India and Sri Lanka at their best. If Australia are not checked, and the league stage becomes a shootout between the two touring teams to decide the second finalist, it will seem very long.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manesh on February 10, 2012, 11:54 GMT

    @KiwiRocker. Funny to see you placed the WC winners and runners up in below class ODI teams and Pakistan and England in the 1st set!!!.You must be a English fan, otherwise, how can you forgot the 5-0 whitewash?!

  • hari on February 10, 2012, 10:46 GMT

    @a1-bundy:hi all,do u know sachin..he is only 100%fitness to the top eleven team..he knows very well when he go to heaven..he is only top scorer in every series like ODIS and TEST(except one series)past 2-3 years also......he is the worlds most constant & stability player......when he was went australia in 5times then 4times he was most successful and all other countries he was successful like england,southafrica,west indies and newzeland also....why he retires how he is top scorer in 2011tests in india..?

  • Ashok on February 9, 2012, 18:20 GMT

    @Jasonpete: You say Australia & SA are the only countries that win in "all conditions"!. Please check the stats which will challenge your statement. The Australians lost back to back - Home & away "Ashes" series within laST 12 MONTHS.Also don't forget even NZ beat the Aussies in Australia within past 5 months.Australia lost comfortably in both last 2 tours of India. You will find something similar to the SA team too. All teams perform poorly abroad whilst they are" Kings" at home! Only solution appears to play a full season tour(about 4-5 months) with a number of county matches rather than quick round of 4 tests. This give the visitors full chance to adapt to vastly different pitches & environmental conditions.

  • only on February 9, 2012, 17:15 GMT

    @ Al_Bundy1 god of cricket you were talking ruled and still ruling the cricket world. he played at immence presure for over 22 years which no other cricketer can even think of. without Sachin, cricket in India who cares, cricket in the world now will not be this famous. Still Sachin is the best player with high scores in all matches. 100th 100 is just one more to come in his records, it is not the only he is acheiving in his career like lot of cricketers from your part of world

  • only on February 9, 2012, 17:10 GMT

    @ jasonpete - this shows your great cricket knowledge, Aussies still trying way to win in India and all know how good SA in sub continent conditions. India is bouncing back and will rock soon

  • mythily on February 9, 2012, 14:23 GMT

    @ kiwirocker, As an Australian I would say,Australia and southafrica are the top two teams who win games in all the conditions and remaining teams like pakistan ,srilanka ,india so on win only in their subcontinent conditions.

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2012, 12:45 GMT

    I am just saying why cant Sehwag bat in the middle order?

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    Tendukar obviously is past his prime.As Imran daid in a recent interview given to CNN -IBN he should have retired last April after the world cue when he was on a "high".To linger on just for the sake of a record is unsportsmanlike like behavior . Is he playing for Bharath or Bharat Ratna ?

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2012, 12:33 GMT

    @rahulcricket007. All the SL fans are in their respective places, I think winning just one match and talking too much your self. Anyway whoever come to final Australia is the winner.Either SL or IND can not win this series for sure unless AUS play with Shaun Marsh.

  • Venkat on February 9, 2012, 12:27 GMT

    Also the Selectors should look at consistency as a key factor. A guy like Sehwag fails to the same reckless shot in 9 innings out of 10. Instead of dropping him, the selectors give the longest of handles to such people. Any opposition captain would be overjoyed with Sehwag in the India team because they will fully know that even if Sehwag may fire in an odd innings or so, the opposition can still be certain that they can get India down to 10 men within minutes. So even if a small battle is lost, the War will always be won by the opposition with such type of baggage players. As for the shot that Dhoni played yesterday, the less said about it the better. If it was some young guy who had done that crime, Dhoni would have ensured that the youngster remains in the confines of domestic crcket and not bother the national team.

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