The match against Sri Lanka before the final was important on two counts for the Indians. One was to establish a psychological dominance and other was to try and sort out Muralitharan. Unfortunately they failed on both those counts and the Sri Lankans demolished them with panache. The difference between the sides was the mental strength and also the common sense displayed by Marvin Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene. The broke the record for the third wicket partnership and in the process they exposed the limitations of the Indian attack.
It is sort of strange that Anil Kumble has been under scrutiny when one considers that his absence yesterday showed what a big difference he makes to the side especially in the middle overs. Ajit Agarkar dismissed Jayasurya and Kaluwitharana in successive overs after Zaheer Khan kept them pinned to the back foot with an aggressive opening spell. Agarkar looked a bit like himself and he has to pick up wickets to make up for his ordinary economy rate. The double strike by Agarkar brought Attapattu and Jayawardene together and the way they controlled the major part of the innings was as smooth as silk.
They had to play themselves in initially almost like in a Test match and after having done that they gradually took the game away from the Indians in a clever and stealthy manner. The remarkable aspect of the Atapattu-Jayawardene partnership was that they orthodox cricket shots and made batting look so easy. The pitch was firm to start off with but slowed down considerably as the game progressed. Atapattu, the more experienced of the two, took on the role of a sheet anchor and he allowed Jayawardene to adopt his methods. Not that the youngster went berserk but he showed great poise and played some delectable shots all round the park. A couple of late cuts he played off Robin Singh were reminiscent of Gundappa Visvanath, the former Indian legend.
By the time the game reached the halfway stage, the Sri Lankans were adroitly manipulating the Indians and the Indian skipper tried all the tricks up his sleeves but in vain. The left arm spinners Joshi, Sriram and Yuvraj Singh were dealt with ease and even Joshi lost his way in the later stages of the innings. Robin Singh looked rusty and the Sri Lankan pair worked him around comfortably for runs. Ganguly tried his hand as well but the dominant third wicket pair helped themselves to runs at will. Jayawardene played what must go down as one of the best innings ever to be played at Sharjah. Arnold rubbed salt into the wounds of the Indians with some quickfire batting and Atapattu reached his hundred just in time. The Lankans should be given the credit as they showed what batting out the opponents is all about.
The Indian reply started off in the most unwanted fashion with Ganguly departing early and Sriram following suit. The youngster might well rue his mode of dismissals as he may be dropped at least temporarily. It would be a bit harsh if he were to be dropped as he has the talent to come good given the confidence. Tendulkar looked in good touch and it was a pleasure to see strike the ball with the authority one expects of him. His rash shot to be caught off Muralitharan was brought about by his over enthusiasm to try and take charge of the proceedings. If it took a pair to take away the game from the Indians in the first half, Muralitharan drove the nails in the coffin on his own when the Indians batted. It was almost that he had the batsmen mesmerised as he ran through the side with an incredible spell. The resistance from Dahiya and Badani was not enough for the side but it has done their reputation no harm at all.
The Indians will start as underdogs in the final and it is good in a way that there will no undue pressures on them. Moreover things may go wrong for the Lankans on the day that matters. Still the Indians have to play out of their skins to put it across the Sri Lankans.