The Perfect Performance
As one-sided contests go, the Indian team will find it difficult to outdo this effort against Sri Lanka at Mohali. The victory at Nagpur was emphatic enough, but even in that match there was a period, however brief, when Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara seemed to be making a match of it. There were no such let-ups today, in the field or with the bat, as India turned the tables on Sri Lanka and handed them the kind of defeat that they have inflicted upon India in the past.
Admittedly, Sri Lanka threw it away with a shocking display by their top order on an excellent batting strip, but the Indians did what they had do in the field, without ever easing the pressure. The tendency to let the foot off the opposition's neck when they're down and out is an old Indian trait, and it was on view as recently as three months back, against the same opposition in their homeground when Sri Lanka recovered from 95 for 6 to chase down 222, but there were no such escape routes provided for them here.
The collective hunger and spirit in the field that was on show hasn't been seen in an Indian outfit since their tour to Pakistan in March-April last year, and for a side which has an incredible amount of cricket lined up in the coming months, these are extremely encouraging signs. One of the heroes from that historic Pakistan series was Irfan Pathan, and in the last few matches he has shown glimpses of rediscovering his most lethan weapon which he had lost temporarily - the delivery which swings back into the right-hander. He nailed Tillakaratne Dilshan - one of batsmen who has often mounted comebacks for Sri Lanka in the recent past - with a peach of a delivery which swung back in after pitching on a perfect length.
Despite all the drama of the Sri Lankan innings, the most compelling moments of the match were when India came out to polish off that measly target. Three days back, in Nagpur, Sachin Tendulkar offered a fair indication of his fitness and his mindset on his return from injury; today, he further reconfirmed it with an innings of stunning strokeplay.
Over the last couple of years, Tendulkar had closeted many shots which made him such a feared one-day batsman. Today, those shots were back in all their splendour - the fast bowlers were deposited back over their heads with savage aggression, but he clearly reserved his best for Muttiah Muralitharan. Murali has often stated in the past that Brian Lara is the batsman who has played him better than anyone else; Tendulkar seems in a mood to contest that claim.
The carnage started as soon as Murali came on to bowl, and his first two deliveries brought out the vintage Tendulkar - the first ball, a well-flighted offspinner, was met with twinkle-toed footwork and carted over the bowler's head for four; the next one, outside off and going straight through, was caressed through extra cover with one decisive front-foot stride. That set the tone, and Tendulkar the genius was soon in full flow, once even showing the audacity to make a last-minute change to an attempted reverse-sweep and play the conventional sweep instead. Murali hit back in the end, though, with an outstanding over which had Tendulkar searching for the ball and struggling to read the doosra. Tendulkar won this round, but there are five more to go, and you can be sure that Murali will hit back.
Murali's performances, though, will be the least of the many worries for Marvan Atapattu. Sri Lanka may be the second-best one-day team according to the ICC rankings, but their overseas record is anything but impressive: out of their last 40 ODIs abroad, they've won 17, and six of those have come against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Tom Moody and Co. have plenty of mulling to do over the weekend.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo