On pitches where the bowlers can do very little, such as at the Asia Cup, the little they manage to do is priceless. The Indian medium-pacers put in just such a performance on a heartless pitch to restrict Sri Lanka to 308.
To start off with, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made an aggressive move by playing an extra bowler. "We wanted to think a bit differently, to do things a bit differently," Dhoni said, after the comprehensive win took them into the final. "If you keep doing the same thing, you will get the same result. We wanted to go with a 4-1 combination, because we have struggled in the middle overs. Since there is not much help in the middle overs, we wanted to have an option there." One other thing they did differently - and more importantly - was they opened the innings with RP Singh and Ishant Sharma. Praveen Kumar has, in his short career, been a superb new-ball bowler for India, but that is when he can get the ball to move. In Karachi, however, the pitch has not aided Praveen, and the move worked for India.
What favoured Ishant and RP was that the pitch, for the first time in eight matches, had a hint of variable bounce, and as Mahela Jayawardene reckoned, was a bit a slower. And on such pitches bowlers like Ishant, who can hit that length consistently, can be difficult to handle. With RP bowling a tight opening spell of four overs for 11, Ishant was the one Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya had to go after. A less humble man might claim to have chalked out a strategy to bowl in the blind spot around the left-hand batsmen's hips - Ishant got edges down the legs off both Sangakkara and Jayasuriya just before they could explode. Those, in fact, were not the best balls he bowled, but he had an interesting battle going on with Jayasuriya building up to that dismissal.
RP, who really should have been the Man of the Match, returned for a second spell within the Powerplays to bowl a maiden over to Jayawardene. In his last three overs, bowled at the death, he went for 20 runs and took Kaushal Weeraratne's wicket, making sure the final charge never arrived.
"I am pretty happy with the way they did today," Dhoni said. "Ishant, RP and Pragyan [Ojha] bowled really well, it doesn't mean that the other bowlers didn't. You have to see they had the opportunity with the new ball, the rest of the seamers had to bowl with a fairly old ball."
The old ball has been a problem for India for some time now. They haven't been great exponents of reverse-swing, and the yorker has been conspicuous in its absence. India did manage to restrict Sri Lanka to 77 in the last 10 overs, but that had a lot to do with the fact that they had got wickets at fairly regular intervals. It was mainly length bowling at the death, with a slower ball here and there; better batsmen than Sri Lanka's last five would have cherished those dish-outs.
Once again, when India came in to bat, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir gave them an explosive start, which proved to be a blessing for the middle order that usually has a lot more running between the wickets to do than Sehwag or Gambhir. Out of the last 36 hours, India have been involved in cricket-related activities for about 24 hours, so the ease with which they reached the target in 46.5 overs doesn't begin to reflect the magnitude of the effort. "These bikes are running on reserve energy," Dhoni joked.
Dhoni, Suresh Raina, and Rohit Sharma looked visibly tired by the end of it; the bowlers will be feeling it even more. In the two days that they have between today and the final, they will have to recover physically, and also work out how to put in the other half of the precious little they managed today.