India dominate Sri Lanka on way to final
India's best fielding performance in ODIs since the Champions Trophy in September last year set up their march to the final by way of a thumping win. It wasn't anything spectacular: half chances were taken and easy ones not missed, marking a big improvement on their recent fielding form. That, coupled with impressive bowling from Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra, pulled Sri Lanka from an explosive start and restricted them to a paltry 213, which was chased down with 17.2 overs to spare.
Zaheer was the pick of the bowlers, creating one half chance, and two fairly easy ones. At one stage his figures read 6-2-11-2. Sri Lanka had chosen to bat to allow their bowlers experience first-hand the wet conditions before the final, but it took resilient half-centuries from Kumar Sangakkara and Suraj Randiv to take the match far enough for the dew to set in.
If Sangakkara and Randiv had to work hard, India's runs came with predictable ease: Gautam Gambhir scored his 19th half-century, Dinesh Karthik narrowly missed a fourth, and Virat Kohli made it to his fourth 50-plus score in his last five innings.
But it was the first 11 overs of the match that staged the decisive action: two wicket-maidens, a wicket in the first over of new spells on three occasions and, between that, scintillating batting from Tillakaratne Dilshan. Coming back from a groin injury, Dilshan decided to do away with the running. He just drove, cut, pulled and late-cut eight boundaries in 17 deliveries to deflate any confidence India and Sudeep Tyagi would have gained from getting Upul Tharanga out in the first over.
When Zaheer was brought on, in the sixth over, Dilshan had hit seven boundaries in his 29, and Sri Lanka nine in their 38. He was pulled for a four second ball. The next ball took a thick edge, and was dying on Gambhir at fine gully before he snared it. Zaheer was pumped, and proceeded to bowl to a plan that worked just fine for him. Nothing to drive, a short cover in place, playing on the batsmen's patience with the nagging accuracy. Mahela Jayawardene gave in, driving a ball that should not have been driven, and Kohli hung on to a sharp catch at short cover.
Back came Sreesanth, whose first two overs had gone for 16, and Thilan Samaraweera walked across to a straight delivery and missed. Forty-two for 1 in 5.2 overs became 61 for 4 in 10.2. Soon Thilina Kandamby was run out, his fifth such dismissal out of 23. This time, though, he was sold a dummy by his captain, and was done in a by a smart throw from Karthik and quick backing-up by Zaheer.
Thissara Perera, bounced and verbalised by Zaheer, tried to target Mishra, but Yuvraj Singh pulled out a diving catch at wide long-on, not his last contribution to Sri Lanka's woes. Sangakkara, who had reached 32 off 42 by then, responded to Perera's wicket by stepping out and hitting Sreesanth for four. He dominated a seventh-wicket partnership that took Sri Lanka closer to 150, but that's when Yuvraj struck.
Sangakkara had tried to make full use of every loose delivery that came his way, and also took calculated risks to keep the scoreboard from stagnating. But when he pulled a Yuvraj delivery which was too full, he had completed 43 innings without a century. Randiv and Thilan Thushara added 59 for the eighth wicket, a stand that saw Randiv through to his first List A fifty. But when the time came to press on, when they opted for the Powerplay in the 44th over, the tail came up short, and Sri Lanka were bundled out by Zaheer and Mishra, with four overs still to go.
If there was any doubt to which way the match was going, Karthik and Gambhir removed it by taking 86 off the first 10 overs. Sri Lanka's last chance of preventing India from getting the bonus point vanished when Dilshan and Tharanga dropped Gambhir on 41 and 44 respectively.
Karthik did no harm to his chances of pushing for a place in further matches by following up a catch and a smart run-out with a dominating role in the opening partnership. He started off with a streaky boundary past the slip but soon got into the groove, punishing errors in both line and length. Anything straying on the pads was flicked through midwicket, and the ones short were cut through point and covers. Gambhir smartly assumed the second fiddle, capitalising on width when not milking singles.
Once with Kohli, and with fields spread, the two got down to exploiting the gaps, running almost on intuition, scoring 60 off their 72-run partnership on foot. Upon Gambhir's dismissal, Kohli asked for the Powerplay and quickly finished Sri Lanka off, accelerating from 33 off 48 to 71 off 68.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo