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The Bulletin by Sriram Veera
August 18, 2008
The actors were different from the Test series but the script remained the same. India were injected with fresh blood but couldn't escape the slow poison of M&M. Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara did the initial work before Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan blew away the rest to bowl out India for 146. Without having to contend with the pressure of a high asking rate, a serene Mahela Jayawardene weathered the minor hiccup of the loss of the openers and steered his side home in the company of Chamara Kapugedera.
You couldn't escape the sense of deja-vu. Having lost the toss, Jayawardene delayed the introduction of the spinners till the 20th over, but when Mendis finally appeared, it was evident his spell over the batsmen remained unbroken.
India's plight was best exemplified by the dismissal of Yuvraj Singh. He had struggled against the seamers, surviving a dropped chance at five against Kulasekara, before Mendis swallowed him in a spectacular first over. It was quite a sight. The first ball hastened past a mystified Yuvraj, the second-ball skidder fetched a plausible appeal for lbw, and the third saw a desperate counterattack clear the field and the boundary. The fourth was the carrom ball; thinking it would spin away, Yuvraj pushed his bat well outside the line but the ball straightened to sound the death knell.
And Mendis dealt the killer blow almost immediately when he drew Mahendra Singh Dhoni into edging his legbreak to slip. The tailenders resisted briefly but India folded up for a measly score. It was the culmination of the good start provided by the seamers. Aided by the seam movement on a two-paced track - grassy areas punctuated by patches of dry areas - both new-ball bowlers kept it simple: Vaas interspersed his angling full-length deliveries with ones that straightened while Kulasekara troubled the batsmen with his incutters to the right-hand batsmen.
Vaas, overshadowed by Mendis and Murali during the Test series, reminded India just why he is the highest wicket-taker in India-Sri Lanka ODI encounters by breaching the defences of the in-form Gautam Gambhir with the second ball of the match. Kumar Sangakkara stood up to the stumps right away to prevent Gambhir's usual walk down the track and Gambhir drove completely outside the line.
One by one, they stumbled. Suresh Raina never looked in, constantly flirting outside off, eventually succumbing to his urge to drive on the up. The debutant Virat Kohli, replacing Virender Sehwag who'd twisted his ankle in practice, was no better. He was unsure of whether to go forward or back during his stay and was caught dead in front by an incutter from Kulasekara.
Kulasekara should have got the next man, Yuvraj but Jayawardene fluffed a regulation chance at second slip. Yuvraj's start was typical: the bat was tentatively pushed away from the body a few times before he broke free with a well-timed clip through the on side. Emboldened, he went for the on-the-up flash and the resultant edge should have terminated his stay. After that, though he never looked completely at ease, he started to play close to the body. That was until Mendis arrived.
Rohit started cautiously, opening the bat face to pinch singles, before he suddenly, and against the run of play, walked down the wicket and swung a short-of-a-length delivery from Vaas over deep midwicket in the 16th over. However, immediately after Mendis sent Yuvraj packing, Rohit steered a delivery slanted across him straight to the solitary wide slip and India continued to free fall.
Sri Lanka, too, wobbled initially in the run chase against some disciplined bowling from Munaf Patel - who prised out the openers - and Zaheer Khan. On a day when the Indian batsmen were shamed, their bowlers provided brief moments of consolation. After six overs of stalemate, Sanath Jayasuriya lost his patience. He skipped down the track but skied the lofted carve to mid-on. Sangakkara, too, fell to the urge to dominate, getting a leading edge from an attempted whip across the line.
However, Jayawardene took charge, looking good from the go. He creamed the seamers through the covers, a gorgeous on-the-up off drive off Munaf in the 17th over being the highlight. Dhoni introduced spin in the 23rd over but even he would have known that neither Harbhajan Singh nor Pragyan Ojha could have produced any miracles. The target was simply not enough on this track.
Munaf was the best Indian bowler on the view. He repeatedly whipped the ball down from a loose-limbed action and got the ball to either cut back in or shape away from the off stump. He might have even bowled the best ball of the day by a medium-pacer when he got one to seam away late past Jayawardene's bat but, as in the Tests, the Indian batsmen hardly gave the bowlers any cover to fire. The Sri Lankan summer of mystery continues to taunt and tease the Indians.
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