An off day for captain Jayawardene
You had to double-check to make sure it was Mahela Jayawardene captaining Sri Lanka today. India's chase of 321 in 36.4 overs was the quickest successful one of a 300-plus total in ODI cricket. Yes, India had nothing to lose. Yes, their batsmen were in the zone. Yes, this was a flat pitch. Sri Lanka, though, made blunders.
Jayawardene is a shrewd captain. Often he defies modern captaincy formulas, and attacks to win. He takes wickets to slow runs down. Tonight, he backed off, delayed the bowling Powerplay, and left India 10 overs of Powerplay out of their last 13. Even India were not expecting that. Their plan was to take the batting Powerplay immediately after Sri Lanka were done with theirs in the 20th over, but when they saw Sri Lanka take a backward step, the batsmen played on Sri Lanka's, and kept on playing risk-free cricket to allow themselves a cluster of Powerplay overs towards the end.
And then there was the use of Lasith Malinga. He didn't have a great day, we all know. In fact his economy-rate tonight was the worst for any bowler who has bowled five overs in an innings. It wasn't always like that. He had made a superb comeback with a change of ends after his first three overs went for 28 runs. In his fourth, he took out Sachin Tendulkar.
Jayawardene took him off immediately, and left all his remaining overs for the end. You just don't do that. No matter how good a death bowler, you hardly see any captain using him from 38th to the 50th over. It is just too big a risk. Moreover, his non-use of Malinga in the middle was un-Jayawardene again. He wants wickets in middle overs to slow runs down. Here he was waiting for a wicket to fall.
"That [delaying the Powerplay] was a decision because I wanted to bowl my spinner but they were going at nine an over, and I couldn't just take the Powerplay then," Jayawardene said. India were 2 for 118 at the end of the 15th over, the time they would usually take the Powerplay. The last five overs had brought them just 21 overs. So it wasn't like India were in top gear then.
"I wanted to take the Powerplay around the 20th or the 22nd over, that was my idea," Jayawardene said. "Just delay it by five overs. They still went at eight-nine an over. Then I just had to delay it, thinking I could get a wicket or maybe they'll still have to take the risk, and with the field being back I could get more wickets. That was the idea.
"I was going to delay it just for few overs, just to settle things down, slow it down a bit more, but it didn't work today. They batted really well throughout. They had momentum. They knew they could take risk, and they took. And paid off for them." Jayawardene usually wouldn't have done that. Shows pressure gets to the best of them.
It didn't help that they lost Farveez Maharoof to an injury. About the use of Malinga, Jayawardene said he wanted the ball to get older before bringing his best bowler back. "In 40 overs, I had six of him left," Jayawardene said. "Once the ball gets a little older, that's when he gets more effective. A bit more reverse, and make it harder. I don't know. That's the thing. Lots of ifs and buts. So easy to say, 'I could have done this, I could have done that.' That's the way the game goes."
There was another mistake Jayawardene would have made had he got the chance. Knowing India would dearly love to chase tonight, Jayawardene said he would have batted first had he won the toss. It was a flat pitch all right, but the thin bowling that India had, you would back yourself to get 80% of what they scored. In the end, though, the batsmen did their job.
"We felt that with runs on the board, it was always going to be tough," Jayawardene said. "Couldn't have asked for anything better than that. We batted really well. We were batting for a 50-over game, as any other day we executed a very good gameplan there. With wickets in hand, I thought 320 was a very good score. Just that they batted really well. We probably didn't bowl that well. Didn't handle situations well. And lost the game."
Jayawardene the captain had an off day after six pretty good ones. Perhaps the 40-over scenario got him. Perhaps the quality of batting did. Perhaps his bowlers let him down badly. The luxury, though, is, he has another shot left on Friday when he will need to put one across Australia to enter the finals.
"We have played good cricket, we have played very good cricket with these two teams," Jayawardene said of the game against Australia. "We have beaten them twice. Obviously we can compete with them in these conditions, which is great. So still it's a tough task. We are playing one of the top teams. They are in form as well. The incentive is a final. So there is a lot for our guys, a lot of motivation to do that. Knowing you have to win a game of cricket to be in the final. To see whether we have the hunger and the passion and the quality to do that." To add to the hunger and passion, the usual shrewd and aggressive Jayawardene wouldn't hurt either.
Edited by Siddarth Ravindran
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo