ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v Sri Lanka, final, World Cup 2011, Mumbai
Sri Lanka let down sublime Jayawardene
Sri Lanka were so feeble on the field that they rendered absolutely inconsequential a magnificent hundred from Mahela Jayawardene
April 2, 2011
The World Cup hasn't been blessed with grand finals. From a distance now, 1975 looks much closer than it actually was; 1983 was memorable because it produced a stunning upset; and 1992 was sealed with two magic balls from Wasim Akram. Only 1987 produced a tense finish, but it was played between two middling teams. To the dispassionate eye, the regret about 2011 will be that Sri Lanka, so clinical until the final, were so off the boil on the field that the biggest chase in a World Cup final became a canter in the end.
Sri Lanka had the distinction of chasing the highest score to win a World Cup. In 1996 they were generously assisted by the dew in Lahore as they knocked off 241 with plenty to spare. While dew was a factor on Saturday night too, Sri Lanka were so feeble on the field that 274 felt like 50 short. Kumar Sangakkara was full of grace in conceding India's superiority in the contest, but when he said they would have needed 350 to challenge India, he might have been reflecting on his team's out-cricket.
It was a pity because it rendered absolutely inconsequential a magnificent hundred from Mahela Jayawardene.
In fact, it could be said that there were two Sri Lankas in the final in Mumbai. There was Jayawardene: beautiful, balanced and inspired. And then there was the Sri Lanka on the field: sloppy, uncoordinated, listless and a bundle of nerves. India were worthy winners because they carried more class and depth, but Sri Lanka's inability to stretch them despite the early tremors caused by Lasith Malinga robbed the final of the tension it deserved.
Jayawardene must feel hard done by because the world remembers only winners. His team-mates didn't drop as many catches as Pakistan did in the semi final - in fact, Tillakaratne Dilshan grabbed a stunner off his own bowling to dismiss Virat Kohli - but they leaked so many runs in the field that the India batsmen, once they settled down, were never made to work hard.
This was in dramatic contrast to the Indian fielding effort that peaked on Saturday, after gradually improving through the knockout stages. Now trimmer and considerably fitter, Yuvraj Singh, back in his old position at point, was electric: and, along with Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli, he formed an offside cordon the Sri Lankan top order found impossible to breach. They starved Sri Lanka of singles by attacking the ball and cut off certain boundaries with spectacular dives. Even the fast bowlers, usually liabilities in the outfield, seemed to have acquired springs. Zaheer Khan saved a couple of fours at third man, and Sreesanth sprinted and slid at square leg to stop another.
While India rose well above themselves, Sri Lanka, though never among the most sparkling fielding sides, sunk way below their usual standards, and the combined difference could well have been 40 runs. This piece of comic fielding summed up the Sri Lankan performance: Gautam Gambhir sliced Muttiah Muralitharan straight to point where Chamara Kapugedera fumbled the ball, allowing a single, and then fired in a throw wide of the bowler to concede another run.
With the ball too, Sri Lanka were below par. Malinga produced two huge wickets when it was least expected. He hasn't been a threat with the new ball throughout the World Cup and to nail Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar in his first spell was a huge bonus. But Malinga couldn't do the job expected from him and MS Dhoni and Yuvraj picked him off easily when he returned for what could have been a match-turning spell.
Murali was perhaps not fully fit and got easily annoyed with the wet ball and Suraj Randiv, who was brought in as cover for Murali but played ahead of Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath, was the most economical bowler of the day but never threatened to produce a wicket. Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Perera more than compensated for the absence of Angelo Mathews with the bat but they were clearly ill equipped as lead bowlers. Sometimes in seeking to address the conditions, teams veer away from their strengths.
What a let-down this effort was for Jayawardene, who produced an innings worthy of a final. The world feels a lovely place when he gets going, but beauty is nothing without purpose and substance. His was a beautifully structured innings that first lifted Sri Lanka from a sluggish start and then gradually led them towards a challenging total. As ever, Jayawardene, who had had an indifferent World Cup so far, persuaded the ball through gaps affectionately, using the pace that the pitch offered and creating space with gentle wrist work. His first fifty came off 49 balls, and the second, without any noticeable shift in gear, in 35, with the century coming with two superbly executed fours off Zaheer Khan.
This was his second virtuoso innings in knockout matches of successive World Cups. In 2007, his unbeaten hundred against New Zealand had come in similar circumstances (he came in to bat at 67 for 2 then, as against 60 for 2 today) and had carried his team to the final.
On Saturday, he became the first centurion in a losing cause in a World Cup final. How empty it must feel.
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