India in Sri Lanka 2008-09 February 11, 2009

Series to India, worries to Sri Lanka

"We were beaten fair and square ... we were outplayed in all departments. While we are disappointed, and the Sri Lankan fans are obviously upset, we should all realise that we lost to the best one-day team in the world." - That was Muttiah Muralitharan on the series. Cricinfo looks at the issues that made the difference.


A tale of two captains: Mahendra Singh Dhoni pretty much made all the right calls and scored over 250 runs, while Mahela Jayawardene struggled, often looking hunted © AFP
 

Sri Lanka's batting woes
The captain Mahela Jayawardene has been struggling to find runs and the lower middle order has not allowed him any breathing space. For much of the series, their top order chased big targets in the knowledge that if they failed, the team would collapse - leading to the inevitable. Thilina Kandamby had one good day, Chamara Kapugedera had none. By his own admission Kandamby is yet to feel that he belongs in international arena - "I will when I score more runs" - and Kapugedera hasn't proved to the world that he belongs.

However, Sri Lanka have persisted with him - the management and even a host of former players, whom you would expect to be hard-nosed critics, believe he will come good one day. Sri Lanka's short-term future is a question of if and buts; by investing faith, they are trying to secure a long-term future.

Till then, though, Sri Lanka continue to be dependent on the old pros. One significant change has already taken place, of course - Jayawardene has resigned as the captain and Sri Lanka will hope the transition yields Jayawardene the batsmen.

Fitness issues
Their recent gruelling schedule hasn't helped Sri Lanka, who looked jaded through the series. Jayawardene and Muralitharan have publicly acknowledged they were a tired unit and their fielding standards have suffered. Ajantha Mendis might have perhaps been rushed back too early from his ankle injury. The Indians played him well, treating him as a medium-pacer and taking care not to play across the line, but Mendis lacked the zip and menace of the last series.

India's batting strength
Sri Lanka took on India on the back of good performances from their seamers in Pakistan. But the Indian batsmen completely overwhelmed them in this series. Three batsmen - Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir - crossed 250 runs for the ODI series. They didn't take any undue risks against Murali and Mendis but cashed in on the seamers.

Clarity and versatility
Clarity of thought is the Dhoni mantra. It reflected in the use of slow bowlers during the middle overs between the Powerplays. At times, India were looking like the champion Sri Lanka team of old. "If you can rotate your arm, you should be ready to bowl," Dhoni said. "We saw how even Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma can be effective in short bursts."

Dhoni has options everywhere - nine men can bowl in this team. Among the seamers, Zaheer Khan is the only one who is certain to bowl with the new ball. Ishant Sharma might share depending on who is the third seamer. If it's Praveen Kumar, Ishant will come in first-change so Praveen can exploit his swing with the new ball and if it's Munaf Patel, Ishant might start. Enough has been written about bowling in the Powerplays.

The same thought percolates in the batting as well. Dhoni promoted himself to No. 3 in the fourth game and pushed Raina at that spot in the last match. "If a person is batting at the No. 3 all the time, he doesn't know what a No. 5 to 7 player goes through," said Dhoni. "He has to know how tough it is come in and immediately start scoring. When he bats at that position himself, he will know how vital it is to carry on batting and finish the game once you are set." And vice versa. Awareness of what the other individual goes through increases your own responsibility.

India showed that they are a team that is increasingly aware of its own strength but Sri Lanka were let down by men who are not sure of themselves. Jayawardene wore a hunted look at the press conferences, with the local press - even a national selector - training their guns on him. Kumar Sangakkara's succession to the job, if it happens, will be a smooth transition and possibly the beginning of good times.

India, meanwhile, are at that critical point where successful teams go on to build a collective aura. Time will tell whether they march on or fall away due to faulty thinking and overconfidence. The no 1 spot beckons and it appears Dhoni's boys are listening.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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