Chandimal ton sends India packing
It's a script that never seems to go stale. Sri Lanka have yet again disposed India from a multi-nation tournament. They were splendid today; they hustled on the field, the spinners kept hauling them back when India threatened to break free, and Dinesh Chandimal made the chase look ridiculously easy with a charming ton.
Sometimes desperate situations, like the must-win situation for India, force one to make the right decisions. India made two shows of intent: Yusuf Pathan was promoted to No. 4 and the batting Powerplay was taken in the 18th over. Sometimes the best intentions may not be enough.
Sometimes the hunter becomes the hunted: If India were to get the bonus point that would have helped them in the quest to enter the final, they had to restrict Sri Lanka to 214 but for a while it appeared that it was Sri Lanka who were going for the bonus point, with Chandimal going on to become their youngest ODI centurion.
Sometimes an unknown like Chandimal pulls off a blinder of an innings. When Tillakaratne Dilshan fell after a breezy 21, Sri Lanka were at 29 for 1 and you wondered whether they might slow down, if not stutter, but Chandimal unfurled an attractive innings to ensure that the run-rate never dropped. He impressed with his shot selection, his footwork and his aggressive bent of mind: he walked down the track to lift Pankaj Singh over mid-on, welcomed Pragyan Ojha into the attack with a six over long-off and later smashed him over long-on and crashed R Ashwin over long-off and long-on. And all these sashays down the track were made possible because he used the crease well, often dropping well back to create his own length for his cut shots against the spinners. And, so when the spinners tried to correct the length by hurling it fuller, he responded with his more adventurous hits. And he looked pretty secure in defense too. Unlike Upul Tharanga, who often groped outside the line, Chandimal offered the full bat-face in defense. It took a lovely carrom-ball from Ashwin to get him stumped but by then he had put the issue beyond doubt.
Sometimes you should ask for the stars. Suresh Raina had said after losing the toss that he was looking to reach around 270-280 and he got what he wanted but it didn't prove enough. His team made a steady start, reaching 46 for 2 in 10 overs, and collecting 27 runs in the bowling Powerplay. They shifted the gears gradually and hit 39 runs in the final Powerplay, courtesy some big hits from Yusuf, to reach a healthy position by the half-way mark but Sri Lanka clawed their way back in style.
Sometimes if you remain tenacious enough, you will find a way to break down the spirit of opposition. Two instances stood out for Sri Lanka's tenacity: Ajantha Mendis bowled two overs that yielded just six runs in the batting Powerplay; and Suraj Randiv removed both Yusuf and Rohit Sharma to pull India back from a comfortable situation. Even the third spinner Jeevan Mendis bowled a tight spell in the middle as India, who were at 125 for 2 in 23.5 overs struggled to 187 for 5 in 37.1 overs. Only 52 runs came in this crucial period of 13 overs and importantly three big wickets of Yusuf, Kohli and Rohit went down.
Sometimes disciplined bowling is enough. It was Randiv who did all the damage, not with anything spectacular but with his steady supply of loopy offbreaks. He beat Yusuf in flight and lured him to hole out to long-on and did Rohit in with a big-spinning off break that breached the defences. In between, Kohli, who had until then crafted a responsible innings, had lifted Thushara straight to long-off. And when Raina fell to a stunning catch - Chamara Kapugedera flung himself to his left at short extra cover- off Dilshan's bowling, India were wobbling at 204 for 6 but were saved by Ashwin's cameo.
Sometimes the catalyst comes from the least expected quarter; Ashwin pulled off a gem in the end overs to push India from 204 for 6 in 41.1 overs to a respectable total. Ashwin pinged wide long-on for a six and a four against Mendis in the 47th over and lifted Nuwan Kulasekara for successive fours in the 48th, with a paddle-swept boundary being the highlight. However, Sri Lanka struck in the last couple of overs, via Thilan Thushara, to prevent India from reaching a big score. It was the pattern of the day - India kept threatening to get ahead, and Sri Lanka kept pulling them back till India caved in under the relentless pressure.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo