Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and Robin Singh. On paper that's a truly formidable line up. But 277 to win off 50 overs is a formidable challenge. A challenge that India were not up to on this occasion, succumbing to 205 all out in the Asia Cup encounter against Sri Lanka at the Bangabandhu stadium on Thursday.
An almost run a ball 93 from Tendulkar kept India in the running till that 36th over but when he pulled a ball from Weeraratne to the square leg fence. Jayawardane took a well judged catch on the ropes and that was the end of the road for India. When Sachin's wicket fell there was still a lot of work to be done. Needing over hundred runs off less than 90 balls, the load fell squarely on the broad shoulders of Robin Singh. One again the restrictive bowling of the Lankans kicked in and Singh nicked one through to Kaluwitharana.
A Mumbai 'all rounder' in the shape of Ajit Agarkar did what he is most famous for and departed without scoring a run. At 174/8 the Indian challenge was truly over. Having lost three wickets in the space of seven balls without scoring a run, India had succumbed meekly. From being in the race, India were staring at a humiliating defeat.
Another 'all rounder', this time from Delhi, Nikhil Chopra followed and he too could do precious little as India slumped to a 71 run defeat.
Earlier in the innings Ganguly failed to replicate his performance of yesterday and was choked into giving away his wicket. Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya stacked the off side field and to his delight Chaminda Vaas and Nowan Zoysa responded by bowling the ball in just the right spot. A frustrated Ganguly could not pierce the ring of fielders on the offside and nicked the ball through to Kalu off the bowling of Vaas.
Sunil Joshi was sent in to pinch hit but as he has done many times in the past played one good shot and departed soon after. If the pinch hitting experiment was a failure, the arrival of Dravid at number four was another exercise in futility. Hitting the ball crisply to the fielders, Dravid was unable to get the scoreboard ticking over. In a drama replaying itself, Dravid tried to hit his way out of trouble and tapped the ball back to Muralitharan when he was on 24.
With Tendulkar batting well at one end, Azhar and Jadeja breezed in and out. Neither contributed significantly to the chase and India were precariously placed at 156/5 when Robin Singh joined Tendulkar out in the middle.
The first big clash of the Asia Cup began earlier in the day promising much. After a lacklustre performance against the hosts, India came back strongly to nab the inform Aravinda de Silva, who struck the ball with consummate ease on two occasions off the bowling of Kumaran early on. Perhaps it was the confidence that was De Silva's undoing. Driving on the up, De Silva had to wait long for the ball to arrive and ended up striking the ball high on the bat. Following through, Kumaran stuck his left hand out and snatched the ball out of the air.
After De Silva was dismissed, Jayasuriya played an innings befitting his status as captain and took the Indian bowling on. Curbing his natural stroke making tendencies, Jayasuriya helped himself to a century against an Indian attack that had no answer to the southpaw. Whether he was cutting ferociously or tapping the ball through the gaps for quick ones and twos, Jayasuriya was in command. Partnered well by Marvan Attapattu, Jayasuriya took Sri Lanka steadily forward. In a partnership that lasted over a hundred runs, the pair took Sri Lanka to 162.
However, when Attapattu was caught top edging an attempted sweep off Tendulkar, Sri Lanka lost their way a bit. Although they had a good platform thanks to a mature century from Jayasuriya, it remained to be seen whether they could capitalise on that platform.
The fall of four quick wickets reduced the Lankans to 209/6 after 41.4 overs. In came Chaminda Vaas. Flat batting the bowling all around the park, Vaas did what every Sri Lankan fan was waiting for. In a quickfire unbeaten 34 that came off just 26 balls, Vaas took Sri Lanka to formidable total. In one Agarkar over, Vaas bludgeoned two sixes, one over mid wicket and the other square of the wicket on the leg side. Kaluwitharana played sensibly for his 33 and Sri Lanka ended on 276. The last five overs yielded 46 runs and broke the back of the Indians.
Ganguly: courageous captain of a difficult side
When India lost to Sri Lanka in the third match of the Asia Cup, the Indian captain was a troubled man