India v Sri Lanka, Tri-series final, Dhaka January 13, 2010

India's batting fails when it really matters

The rare failure of the Indian batting line-up in the finals of the tri-series is acceptable, but that it happened in batsman-friendly conditions is not

On a mildly overcast day, on a flat pitch, in an empty stadium somewhere in the outskirts of Dhaka, Sri Lanka reopened some old Indian wounds. The top-order collapse was slightly surprising but it wasn't shocking. The surprise was not over how they collapsed but where they collapsed. That it came in Dhaka, and not Headingley or Wanderers, caused eyebrows to raise. Do you see this as an Indian collapse or do you see it as a tribute to Sri Lankan bowling? Or do you settle for that wonderful cliché - "the truth lies somewhere in between"? MS Dhoni put it thus: "It wasn't a seaming track. It was slightly helpful to the fast bowlers when they bowled short of length but our shot selections could have been better."

And to think that it all started with a soft dismissal. Gautam Gambhir probably wore his thigh pad slightly loose this afternoon to avoid cramps or perhaps it was just an oversight but that mistake proved fatal for India as it exposed the middle-order. A harmless Nuwan Kulasekara delivery moved past the prod, collided with the protruding thigh pad and fell on the stumps. Gambhir's dismissal could have been blamed on bad luck; but not the ones that followed.

In a blink-and-you-will-miss span of play, India were cut open by the seamers. The bowling was certainly disciplined and even intelligent as there seemed to be a plan behind it but it did not justify a scorecard that read 60 for 5.

Virat Kohli would have aged a year in a few minutes of batting. A couple of nights back, he was the toast of India but it took just a few balls today to bring him crashing down to earth. Chanaka Welegedera chose to attack him from round the stumps. It was a short-of-length delivery away from the off stump and Kohli was fresh from a hundred and two fifties in this tournament. You could understand why he went for it, but he could only get an edge.

Yuvraj Singh edged early to his demise - he has always been an iffy batsman against the moving ball and quality spin. It's an indictment on Indian cricket that his name used to be relentlessly pushed forward as a Test replacement for VVS Laxman. Through this tournament, you could see that Yuvraj's old habits were rearing their head again. Today, Welegedera got one to land outside off and veer further away and Yuvraj stabbed it behind. It shouldn't have surprised anyone who has closely followed his career.

Enter Dhoni. His reaction to such situations has almost become predictable. If there is slight movement off the track, he starts getting down the track to change the length and interestingly, when a bowler comes from round the stumps, he walks across to the off-stump to try and tap the ball to the leg side. Both methods have brought him success in the past and though the shot rarely yields more than a single, he does it to cut out the swing and force a change of line.

Today, he attempted the lunge-cum-walk routine but Kulasekara pushed him back with bouncers. He shuffled across to Welegedera, bowling from round the stumps, but Welegedera stuck to his guns and continued to home in on off stump. The noose was tightening and inevitably, Dhoni lunged out again to defend against Kulasekara but got a thick edge.

India's hopes survived on Virender Sehwag's belligerance at this point and as ever, he wasn't thinking about survival. He carved, slashed, punched and lofted his way out of trouble and it very nearly worked. Kumar Sangakkara delayed the bowling powerplay, the fielders started inching back and India would have dared to hope again when a slightly slower bouncer from Kulasekara got him to edge his upper-cut to the keeper. Suresh Raina did his best to push India to a competitive score and though Sri Lanka threatened to choke in the chase, Mahela Jayawardene pushed them over the line. 245, even on a day when dew played no part, did not prove enough.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo