India survive Kandamby scare in thriller
Thilina Kandamby almost masterminded a great escape for Sri Lanka, but just fell short in the face of Ishant Sharma, who kept his nerve and struck three crucial blows in the last 10 overs of a thrilling chase.
India's 256 was at least 30 short of what they would have expected after a fiery start, but half-way through Sri Lanka's innings it seemed they had shot over by at least 30. Kandamby had other ideas, though, stringing together a 100-run partnership with Mahela Jayawardene from 36 for 3, and smaller crucial ones with the lower order to take the match into the last over. Coming into the match Kandamby had scored 171 runs in eight matches, with one prior half-century, and ended unbeaten on 93 today.
After all three Indian pace bowlers had struck a blow in the first eight overs, slicing open the line-up, Jayawardene and Kandamby had no choice but to consolidate and rely on the death overs to make up for the slow run-rate. The asking-rate crossed six in the 19th over, and seven in the 30th over, but the two kept their cool. There were extremely quiet spells during their partnership: early on in the Powerplays they went through a 34-ball span where they scored only eight runs; in the middle overs they spent 88 balls without hitting a boundary.
Slyly during that period, Mahendra Singh Dhoni got through his weaker bowlers, and had nine overs from Ishant and Zaheer Khan in the kitty when the match entered the death overs. Jayawardene ended the boundary-less span with a six off Suresh Raina in the 34th over, but was dismissed soon after reaching his first half-century for 16 matches. Sri Lanka needed 121 from 94 balls at that stage, with Kandamby on 48 off 91 balls.
Upon reaching his half-century Kandamby accelerated, and Chamara Kapugedera (31 off 29) provided the impetus. Kandamby didn't have the power to clear the field, but he kept finding the gaps regularly. Boundaries started coming regularly, and the two took Sri Lanka to a stage where they needed 91 in the last 10 overs. In the 42nd over Sri Lanka opted for the batting Powerplay, and forged a string of overs that gave them at least one boundary. Overs No. 41 to 47 went for 11, 9, 11, 9 ,11, 8 and 7. But during those overs Ishant stayed cool and used the slower delivery well. He dismissed Kapugedera, Faveez Maharoof and Thilan Thushara with the equation reading 70 off 53, 51 off 36, and 29 off 21 respectively.
Zaheer and Ishant bowled two tight overs after that, giving away four and one, and panic set in. Two run-outs left Sri Lanka needing 20 off the last over with one wicket in hand. Praveen Kumar, who had bowled a superb first spell of 8-1-18-1, bowled a wide and two low fulltosses, the second of them resulting in Ajantha Mendis' run-out. Had Kandamby - who scored 45 off the last 38 deliveries he faced - managed the jailbreak, this would have been the third-highest chase at the R Premadasa.
That Sri Lanka were still in the match when they came out to bat was thanks largely to the efforts of Maharoof and Muttiah Muralitharan, who thwarted India's rapid progress twice after Dhoni had won yet another toss against Sri Lanka.
After Sachin Tendulkar got a second ordinary lbw decision in as many matches (the ball was heading down leg), Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir looked ominous in the first Powerplay. They took India along to 62 in the first nine overs, engaging in a sort of boundary-hitting contest. They were tied with four boundaries each when Jayawardene introduced Maharoof, and with immediate results. The third ball he bowled pitched within the stumps, nipped away with extra bounce, and took Gambhir's edge. Three overs later, Sehwag tried to pick up his third three on a relay throw, but was beaten by the Murali-Sanath Jayasuriya combo.
Yuvraj and Suresh Raina recovered well from that double-strike and their own shaky starts. After edging Mendis' carom ball between Kumar Sangakkara and Jayawardene when on 18, Yuvraj went on to unleash his trademark crunchy boundaries, the most satisfactory being a six over long-off in Mendis' next over. But with Murali came further troubles for the batsmen: in his first over he made both Raina and Yuvraj cut and miss. With Murali in the vicinity, Yuvraj couldn't quite break away, but reached his half-century in 74 deliveries.
Bowling changes then worked for Jayawardene again. Although Raina slogged Tillakaratne Dilshan's first ball for a six, the bowler had his back in his third over, surprising Raina with some extra bounce. The major blow came two overs later, in the first over of Nuwan Kulasekara's second spell. Yuvraj was given out lbw, but replays showed he had clearly played the ball onto his pad. India could add only 76 in the following 16.5 overs, including only one boundary in their batting Powerplay.
Maharoof was exceptional in the Powerplay, choking the batsmen with slower deliveries. His stock pace was the variation then, and the batsmen couldn't get any power into their shots. He gave only 40 runs in his 10 overs, six of them bowled in the Powerplays. But the efforts of Kandamby and Maharoof were not enough to deny a cool India their seventh win in a row.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo